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It is one of the leading chronic diseases in the country, affecting nearly four million South Africans - many of whom are unaware of their condition until they are gravely ill.

According to the World Health Organisation, nearly 350 million people worldwide have diabetes, and the United Nations health agency estimates that 3.4 million people die of diabetes every year.

Globally, rising rates of urbanization, sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets are contributing to an increase in obesity and diabetes. The National Development Plan estimates that by 2030 most South Africans will live in urban areas, and the International Diabetes Federation has predicted an almost 50 percent rise in diabetes cases during the same period.

Jackie Maimin, the CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) says that in light of diabetes awareness month, community pharmacies are strongly urging South Africans to get screened and tested for diabetes: 
“The ICPA Diabetes Campaign is part of a global initiative under the auspices of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) to identify individuals that are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can be effectively managed when caught early. However, if left untreated, it can lead to multiple complications that include heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and nerve damage.”

Diabetes risk assessment application
Maimin explains that the ICPA has developed a validated diabetes risk assessment application which, through a series of targeted questions and data analysis, ascertains a person’s chances of developing Type 2 diabetes in the next 10 years. The assessment allows the person to understand their risk and can help them identify positive lifestyle changes that could reduce that risk. Depending on the category of risk the person may require a blood sugar screening test. “The random blood glucose test, if undertaken, will then indicate to the pharmacist if that person requires further testing or referral to their doctor.,” says Maimin.

Independent community pharmacies will be encouraging as many people as possible to take the risk assessment on World Diabetes Day (14 November). Pharmacists will also be available to assist members of the public to understand their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The good news is that type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. About 9 cases in 10 can be avoided by taking a few simple steps to adjust lifestyle choices. Ask your pharmacist how.

What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas is no longer able to make insulin, or when the body can’t use the insulin it produces effectively. Insulin acts like a key which lets glucose pass from the blood stream into the cells to produce energy.

Not being able to produce insulin or use it effectively leads to raised glucose levels in the blood (known as hyperglycemia). Long-term, these high glucose levels are associated with damage to the body and failure of various organs and tissues.

  1. Types of Diabetes 
    “There are different types of diabetes and the symptoms vary,” says Maimin.

People with type 1 diabetes have a total lack of insulin and people with type 2 diabetes cannot use insulin effectively. Type 1 diabetes more commonly begins in childhood, while type 2 diabetes can develop at any age. Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that can occur during pregnancy.”

  1. Signs and symptoms of Diabetes
    According to the ICPA, the following symptoms of diabetes are typical. However, some people with type 2 diabetes have symptoms so mild that they go unnoticed. These are the most common symptoms:

  • Frequent urination

  • Feeling very thirsty

  • Feeling very hungry - even though you are eating

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Blurry vision

  • Cuts/bruises that are slow to heal

  • Weight loss - even though you are eating more (type 1)

  • Tingling, pain, or numbness in the hands/feet (type 2)


The ICPA warns that not every case of type 2 diabetes presents with all the obvious symptoms listed above and that people must also look out for these other subtle signs that something may be amiss with your blood sugar:

  • Skin changes - Dark, velvety patches in the folds of skin, usually on the back of the neck, elbows, or knuckles.

  • Improved vision - Blurry vision is a diabetes symptom. But, in fact, vision change for better or worse can also be a symptom.

  • Itchiness - Diabetes impairs blood circulation, which can lead to dryness and itchiness.

  • Hearing loss - Hearing loss could be an early warning sign of diabetes.

  • Snoring - Statistics have shown that about half of type 2 diabetics snore.

(Adapted from a press release)