Concerns have grown over the past decade that so much of the way health systems are structured in Africa is designed to tackle communicable diseases such as malaria. But as the sub-Saharan Africa region in particular has a growing middle class, there has also been an increase in non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, blood pressure, kidney failure and especially diabetes, which is growing at an alarming rate.
According to the World Health Organization, 18.3% – or almost one in five – of Covid-19 deaths in Africa are among people with diabetes in an analysis of 1
Various health studies have reported well that people living with diabetes are more likely to die if they are infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. One report suggests that the risk of death is more than twice as high as in patients without diabetes. A population-wide study in England found that one-third of Covid-19-related deaths occurred in people with diabetes:
Although the incidence in diabetes among people with diabetes remains relatively low, the trend of diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa is a source of concern as the severity of the disease increases.
Last year, although only 19 million of the world’s 436 million people living with diabetes were in sub-Saharan Africa, about 60% were unaware of their condition – the highest of all regions. But the number of people with diabetes is expected to grow by 48% in 2030 and by 143% in 2045. The economic burden of diabetes in the region is estimated at $ 9.5 billion in 2019 and is expected to increase to $ 17.4 billion by 2045
Despite this worrying trend, only about a third of the 41 countries in the region have fully functional health facilities for patients with diabetes. As the world celebrated this year’s Diabetes Day on November 14, the WHO called for investment in early detection, prevention and treatment of diabetes in Africa.
A person develops diabetes when his body either does not produce insulin or does not use the amount it produces properly. Insulin is a hormone that controls blood glucose levels. When all is well, it can maintain glucose levels in the right amounts. When the system fails, either because the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, called beta cells, are attacked by antibodies, or because the cells have become insulin resistant, the patient is at risk of developing diabetes.
Traditionally, there are two main types of diabetes, although in recent years scientists have considered classifying them as five types. Living with the condition can lead to blindness, kidney failure or amputation of the lower limbs, while increasing the likelihood of heart attack or stroke.
The increase in the prevalence of diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa is linked to rising incomes, urbanization and changes in work and eating habits in the region. This means that as more and more African countries continue to move from low-income to high-income economies, there may also be an increased prevalence of diabetes on the continent.
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