Brazzaville – The World Health Organization (WHO) finds that 18.3% of COVID-19 deaths in the African region are among people with diabetes, one of the conditions that global studies have found to increase the risk of serious diseases and deaths among patients infected with the virus.
The WHO analysis of 14 African countries, which provided information on COVID-19 and comorbidities, showed that the risk of complications or deaths due to COVID-19 increases among people with diabetes with age, with people aged 60 and older which has greater risks.
Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes and amputation of the lower limbs, but with early diagnosis and treatment many of the harmful effects of the disease can be delayed or even avoided. The disease occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin [type 1 diabetes] or if the body can not use the insulin it produces effectively [type 2 diabetes]. The most common is type 2 diabetes.
Over the past three decades, the incidence of type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically in all countries around the world. The African region experienced a six-fold increase, from 4 million cases in 1980 to 25 million in 2014. With about 60% of people with undiagnosed diabetes, the largest percentage of people in Africa are unaware of their status not. A study in Kenya found that 60% of people diagnosed with the chronic condition did not use medication.
“There are too many people who are in the dark or have diabetes. People with this chronic condition get a double blow if they are also infected with COVID-19,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said. “We need to reverse this by investing in early detection, prevention and treatment of diabetes.”
In the early and peak months of the COVID-19 pandemic, health services for diabetes were particularly disrupted. Only about a third of the countries that reported in a WHO survey among 41 countries in sub-Saharan Africa indicated that services are fully operational.
“We must not lose sight of other health challenges as we fight COVID-19. World Diabetes Day is an important moment to draw attention to this chronic disease, which is increasingly threatening the lives of Africans,” said Dr Moeti.
World Diabetes Day is celebrated on November 14 every year.
In many African countries, access to basic equipment for the diagnosis and monitoring of diabetes is a challenge, especially in public and remote health care facilities. There is also a limited amount of insulin and oral hypoglycemic medicines for diabetes on the continent, while health professionals are not adequately trained in the diagnosis and care of diabetes for patients.
The African region is also seeing an increase in risk factors for diabetes such as obesity. Increasing sedentary lifestyle and the intake of foods rich in sugar, fats and salt increase obesity, ranging from 2.5% of adults in Burundi to 26.9% in Seychelles.
WTO works with countries to train more nurses and other health professionals and to expand access to diabetes prevention and care services through the WTO package of essential non-communicable disease interventions for primary health care in low-resource settings. Twenty-five countries have adopted the package and are working to decentralize and improve early detection of diabetes and patient care.