Harare,Zimbabwe (Dec 14 2006)
The number of people
seeking medical assistance for diabetes is
rising in Africa at a time when health
experts say the continent's overburdened
health care systems are ill-equipped to
diagnose the disease and the majority of the
poor cannot afford the cost of treatment.
According to the
World Health Organisation, an estimated
seven million Africans suffer from this
disease which is now ranked as the fourth
main cause of death in most developing
Federation of Diabetics (FID) projects that
the prevalence rate will shoot up by 95
percent by 2010 from the current 0,5 to 3
percent range across the continent.
National surveys in
most parts of Africa indicate that diabetes
cases are on the rise due to rapid
urbanisation and fast changing diets which
are marginalising traditional ones in favour
of the western diets.
In 2003, Zimbabwe
recorded more than 90 000 cases of diabetes,
an increased of 3 000 from the 1997 figure.
The prevalence of diabetes in the adult
population was estimated at 10 percent in
1995, a figure which health experts say is
very high at a time when 50-80 percent of
all the people in the developing world are
unaware on their condition.
Association of Zimbabwe estimates that
around 400 000 people in the country have
the disease but are not aware of this
chronic disease that occurs when the
pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a
hormone that regulates sugar in the blood.
estimate that 800 000 Zimbabweans suffer
from this disease which is also reaching
worrying levels in most countries in
The South African
Medical Research Council, in a report, says
death rates from obesity and diabetes are on
the rise owing to growing urbanisation which
has led to "less walking and exercise and
televisions has led to a generation of couch
potatoes rather than athletes."
"We face a very
difficult situation in trying to manage
obesity. We are up against social and
traditional norms that being fat is a sign
that you are wealthy, you are successful,
you are happy, that your husband can feed
you," says Krisela Stayn, a retired
professor with the SA Medical Research
Council. "We have gone from under-nutrition
to over-nutrition without ever having passed
Analysts say more
than one-third of African women and a
quarter of men are estimated to be
overweight and WHO says this will rise to 41
percent and 30 percent respectively in the
coming 10 years.
In the past, the
disease was thought to be a disease of
'affluence' mainly found in the rich north.
WHO now says that 75 percent of the world's
diabetics will live in developing countries
WHO also reports a
growing number of people seeking medical
assistance in West Africa. It estimates that
more than 3,3 million people in West Africa
suffer from this disease.
In Senegal, the
National Center Against Diabetes reported an
average of 200 new cases each year in the
1980s. However, this figure has increased
more than 10 times with 2 411 new cases
reported in 2005.
"There is more
eating out, rising consumption of fried
foods, brochettes and fritters, which are
now consumed more often than proper
grain-based meals," Stephane Besancon, the
director of programmes at the French NGO
Mali Diabetic Health.
"The problem of
over eating (in Africa) is progressing
He says the disease is more prevalent in
urban areas where traditional foods are
being replaced by Western foods high in fat
say, an estimated 1 billion people are
overweight while 800 million are
undernourished. Health experts say the poor
are the most vulnerable.
The prevalence rate
of this chronic disease was estimated at 194
million in 2003 and it estimated that this
figure will hit 333 million by 2025 as a
result of what health experts say longer
life expectancy, sedentary lifestyle and
changing dietary patterns.
countries, including South Africa still face
a number of problems related to the
management and treatment of the disease.
Critical shortages of diabetic medicine, the
rising cost of drugs and treatment,
competition of resources by HIV/Aids,
tuberculosis and malaria diseases which
often get priority and the general lack of
equipment to diagnose the diabetes has
hampered efforts to manage and control the
pharmacies and all major hospitals, at times
go without essential diabetic medicines
owing largely to lack of foreign currency to
import some of the drugs.
Diabetes is a
chronic condition and diabetics have to
inject themselves with insulin daily for the
rest of their lives as their bodies are
unable to produce enough hormones.
Many diabetics in
Zimbabwe are battling to raise money to buy
essential drugs as well as buying nutritious
food which is also now very expensive.
Health experts warn
that the high cost of medicines means that
the majority of the poor often go untreated
or have no regular treatment.
In Mali, insulin
chews about 20 percent of monthly household
income while in Burkina Faso, health experts
say, a monthly minimum treatment for
diabetics costs between US$16-24 excluding
examinations and follow-up health care.
The average cost
for primary healing in the US after
amputation is estimated between US$7 000 and
US$10 000. In Africa, the cost are much
higher given the prohibitive cost to import
drugs and equipment and the shortage of
A diabetic patient
in Zimbabwe now needs more than $10 000 for
needles and insulin more than $15 000, a
month. The majority of the poor patients
cannot afford this.
Health experts also
say that the poor with no electricity or
refrigerators face the added problem of how
to store insulin.
"Even in relatively
sophisticated cities like Cape Town, the
number of diabetes sufferers with amputated
feet due to late diagnosis and poor
treatment is distressingly high," says a
South African-based health commentator.
Mbaya, director of the Cameroon National
Obesity Centre: "It's not true that only the
rich have problems with obesity and weight.
The poor even suffer more."
Diabetes is a
chronic life-long condition which requires
careful monitoring and control. Common
symptoms include excessive thirst, frequent
urination, sudden weight loss, extreme
tiredness and blurred vision.
management and control, health experts say
it can lead to hyperglycaemia or raised
blood sugar which can damage the body and
lead to failure of various organs, nerves
and blood vessels.
A number of
programmes have been initiated by the
Diabetics Federation to raise awareness
about the disease in Africa as well as
promote support for the disadvantaged
communities and vulnerable groups that
experience difficulties in accessing optimal
"This epidemic is
responsible for so much suffering and loss
of life, yet so little is being done to
tackle it," says an official of the
Diabetics Federation. "Doing nothing in the
face of the epidemic will place significant
stress on the economic development of many
countries and jeopardise the Millennium
The promotion of
traditional African diets still remains a
powerful weapon in the fight against
But for now, its difficult to stop rapidly
urbanising Africa from the appeal of high
fat, high sugar fast foods, the snacks and
the fizzy drinks.
With more diabetic
deaths, Africans will realise the wisdom of