The rise of diabetes among women in Africa is a major health concern.
Washiela van der Westhuizen of Athlone was 33 and only pregnant for a couple of weeks, when she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

“When I saw my feet swelling up I initially thought that it’s pregnancy-related, but after I went for my routine check-up nurses picked up that my blood sugar was high. Two days later I was admitted to hospital, where I stayed for more than two weeks. The doctors said I had diabetes, and had to change my lifestyle drastically,” she recalled.

The disease diappeared after she gave birth but three years later it resurfaced.

She is one of many women in South Africa who develop metabolic disoders during the most critical time of their lives - the child-bearing age.

Medical experts gathering at the 8th annual Africa Health Exhibition & Congress in Joburg later this month, will focus their attention on the rise of diabetes among women in Africa.

The 3-day conference will discuss among other things how quality management can improve service delivery in the health sector, diabetes in African females of child bearing age, medical malpractice litigation and climate change.

Research shows that “diabesity” - a term for diabetes that occurs in the context of obesity - is on the increase as a result of a growing overweight population, and is the result of lifestyle changes and unhealthy food choices.

According to Professor Andre Kengne, director of Non-Communicable Diseases Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council (MRC), who will be presenting at the congress, said diabesity is an area of medicine, which is still relatively unknown in the African setting.

“There are a number of reasons for this changing lifestyle on the African continent, among them poverty, lack of access to nutritious food and the dearth of both knowledge and financial means to make healthy food choices, not to mention the increased availability of unhealthy fast food offerings as Western diets become more popular,” said Kengne.

Dr Sumaiya Adam, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Pretoria, said pregnant women were at risk of developing gestational diabetes - which posed a significant risk to both mother and foetus as well as increased neonatal risks.