HEAD START: Dr Babalwa Moholwana, left, medical director at Nova Nordisk and Dr Mpho Phalatse, right, MMC for health and social development in the City of Joburg, bid farewell to the cyclists before they embarked on their awareness campaign.
A 16-year-old teenager is one of 16 cyclists who recently underwent a gruelling 600km cycling challenge in 72 hours to raise awareness about diabetes.

Diabetes has been named as the second leading cause of death in South Africa, surpassing HIV/Aids and doctors have stated most people who are diabetic are not aware of their condition until it is too late.

Some of the long-term effects of the disease are kidney failure and amputation of the limbs if not detected, diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

The cyclists were part of a cycling relay challenge that took place from Johannesburg to KwaZulu-Natal, to raise awareness about the disease.

The cyclists brave the intense heat on their way to KwaZulu-Natal.

Novo Nordisk, a global healthcare company, the Cycle4Diabetes (C4D) Foundation, an NGO, supported by the City of Joburg, and the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department, partnered to create and increase awareness on this life-threatening disease.

The relay took place from November 2-4 and featured five activation points.

At each point, community members were screened and given medical and dietary advice by healthcare professionals. These landmarks included Soweto, Newcastle, Dundee, Ladysmith and Pietermaritzburg.

The 16-year-old participant partnered with his father, Gerhard Moolman, who described his son as a positive and strong-willed individual.

“We took part in the relay to educate and warn people about this condition. The sad part is that the disease does not have a cure. It is challenging but manageable. I am proud of my son because he stayed strong throughout the entire race and did not feel sorry for himself. He stayed strong until the very end,” said Moolman.

Dirk Oberholzer, another participant of the cycling relay, also said living with the disease was a challenge.

“I was diagnosed at the age of 25. It is quite tricky living with the disease but it is not a death sentence. You have to manage it daily, keep fit and lead a healthy lifestyle. Despite the relay being strenuous, I enjoyed it because this cause is very close to my heart,” he said.

Oberholzer also said he had trained every day for one hour and 30 minutes to prepare for the relay. He urged people to get tested and know where they stood.

According to Dr Babalwa Moholwana, medical director at Nova Nordisk, most people who were diabetic did not know that they had the disease and the symptoms were excessive thirst, excessive urination, overeating and deteriorating eyesight.

“Diabetes is the leading cause of death and the cycling challenge is a tool to raise awareness of the disease,” said Moholwana.

She also urged people to know where they stand because in the long term, diabetes could lead to kidney failure and amputation of the limbs.

Dr Mpho Phalatse, MMC health and social development of the City of Johannesburg, said they conducted a survey where they discovered that diabetes had a prevalence of 11% of which only 6% knew they were diabetic.

“Most people continue to live undiagnosed and it is important for us to create awareness. Screening needs to be strengthened, people need to routinely check their weight and set targets on maintaining their weight,” she said.

According to her, the various governmental departments needed to team up in order to eradicate this epidemic, which she described as the second leading cause of death in South Africa.

“Sporting facilities and urban planning needs to get on board by creating fitness friendly areas. We need to encourage people to keep fit and we will definitely have all these rolled out by the next financial year,” she added. She also said diabetes treatment was free at all clinics and therefore, there was no reason for anyone to live untreated and ultimately die.

Mogomotsi Mashigo, who was the captain of the cycling team, said he was participating in the relay to raise awareness as well and to encourage everyone to keep fit and healthy. He also urged everyone to check their health status to avoid future problems.

“The sooner you know your status, the better. There are various systems put into place to assist everyone affected to maintain a healthy lifestyle."

Public affairs and communications manager of Novo Nordisk, Leko Nkabinde, said the relay was a success and the message they wanted to send across was done effectively.

“We had about 400 people who got screened at the activation points although we are still waiting for accurate figures,” she said.

Nkabinde said it was important for people to get tested because diabetes has become the second leading cause of death, surpassing HIV/Aids.