2 million adults living with diabetes in South Africa are undiagnosed Picture: File

New research figures suggest that South Africa has a much larger problem with diabetes than previously reported. 

It has in fact become one of the top 10 countries for absolute increase in diabetes prevalence. 

This comes from a major global research, IDF Diabetes Atlas, that is released by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) to mark World Diabetes Day on today.

The staggering rise in prevalence is putting a strain on the country to guarantee regular and affordable access to essential medicines and appropriate care. If left undiagnosed or untreated, those living with diabetes are at high risk of blindness, amputation, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke.

Linda Ferns has been living with type 2 diabetes for the past 15 years, and insulin dependent for the last 10. Prior to her diagnosis she experienced frequent and excessive thirst, but it wasn’t until a routine medical check-up when she was confirmed to be insulin resistant. At that time, she was not aware of the warning signs of diabetes, or what the diagnosis meant for her.

Ferns fully relied on her doctors and the healthcare system to provide all the information on how to manage diabetes but has since found out that the advice given is often incomplete or inappropriate for the individual in question. As a result of being prescribed an unsuitable type of insulin, Linda has put on over 30kg in just three years, placing her at risk of further complications.

Over 4.5 million adults in South Africa are estimated to be living with diabetes.

Of these, 2 million adults living with diabetes in South Africa are undiagnosed, and as a result, may be particularly at risk.

Diabetes is among the top ten causes of death, with up to half of deaths occurring in people under the age of 60.

“Diabetes is a serious threat to global health that respects neither socioeconomic status nor national boundaries,” said Dr Dinky Levitt from Groote Schuur Hospital and University of Cape Town, and member of the IDF Diabetes Atlas Committee. 

“The increasing prevalence of diabetes in South Africa is a wake-up call.  Much can be done to reduce the impact of diabetes. We have evidence that type 2 diabetes can often be prevented, while early diagnosis and access to appropriate care for all types of diabetes can avoid or delay complications in people living with the condition.

"Therefore we must do more to prevent type 2 diabetes, diagnose all forms of diabetes early and prevent complications. Importantly we must ensure that every person with diabetes has uninterrupted access to the quality care they need in their communities."