Poor eating habits, a lack of exercise and ignorance around diabetes are among the main ongoing challenges in fighting the disease in South Africa.
But diabetes is not just a local problem.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, more than 4.2 million adults are living with diabetes. An estimated 45.4% people are undiagnosed.
South Africa has the highest prevalence of diabetes in Africa at 11.3% of its population.
It is estimated that an additional 13 million South Africans – that’s one in three adults – have impaired fasting glucose (IFG), which puts them at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. This is the highest prevalence of IFG in the world.
According to Diabetes South Africa, half of South Africans who have diabetes don’t know they have it.
Emmanuel Chinyerere is a volunteer with the organisation.
He said: “Diabetes that is uncontrolled or not regulated can lead to major health concerns later in life. We need to drastically improve the amount of information that is available to the public. This must be done for South Africans who are unaware to be more educated and informed of not just the symptoms, but the best ways to treat and manage the disease.
“South Africa has about 19 million people with either an overweight or obesity problem and this is a major risk for contracting diabetes.”
Caine Tibbs, who is also a volunteer with Diabetes SA, said the problem lies with the poor eating habits in the world today, and specifically South Africa.
“There are many thousands of people who eat far too many carbohydrates and fast and processed foods, which are also high in sugar. Also, the fact that many people are idle and do not exercise regularly.
“This can lead to someone being unaware that they have diabetes. Lack of knowledge relating to diabetes in general in the community and discrimination in employment and schools can also lead to individuals being afraid to inform others of their condition,” said Tibbs.
In a recent column published on “Diabetes Focus eMag”, the publication said diabetes was one of the largest global health emergencies of the 21st century and among the top 10 causes of death worldwide.
According to the World Health Organization, the number of people with diabetes rose from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014. Prevalence has been rising more rapidly in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.
“Between 2000 and 2019, there was a 3% increase in diabetes mortality rates by age. In 2019, diabetes and kidney disease due to diabetes caused an estimated two million deaths,” it said in a statement in September.
Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.
Chinyerere said: “We as a community need to improve our knowledge relating to diabetes, improve our eating habits and exercise more frequently. Diabetes will never be overcome. However, we can manage it effectively by managing it and constantly checking our blood glucose.
“We can certainly lessen the numbers of individuals who are currently unaware that they are living with it by encouraging people to take it upon themselves to visit nearby hospitals and check their blood glucose or go to a dietician,” said Chinyerere.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose. Hyperglycaemia, also called raised blood glucose or raised blood sugar, is a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes. Over time, it leads to serious damage to many of the body’s systems, especially the nerves and blood vessels.
According to the World Health Organization:
– Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-dependent, or adult-onset diabetes) results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. More than 95% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. This type of diabetes is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity. Symptoms may be similar to those of Type 1 diabetes but are often less marked.
– Type 1 diabetes (previously known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or childhood-onset diabetes) is characterised by deficient insulin production and requires daily administration of insulin. Neither its cause nor the means to prevent it are known. Symptoms include excessive excretion of urine (polyuria), thirst (polydipsia), constant hunger, weight loss, vision changes and fatigue. These symptoms may occur suddenly.
– Gestational diabetes is hyperglycaemia with blood glucose values above normal but below those diagnostic of diabetes. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of complications during pregnancy and at delivery. These women, and possibly their children, are also at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes in the future. Gestational diabetes is diagnosed through prenatal screening, rather than through reported symptoms.
– Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG) are intermediate conditions in the transition between normality and diabetes. People with IGT or IFG are at high risk of progressing to Type 2 diabetes, although this is not inevitable.
Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves. Adults with diabetes have a two to threefold increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Diabetes is also among the leading causes of kidney failure.