By Saumu Juma

Africa is experiencing an increase in diabetic fatalities during the COVID-19 pandemic with challenges such as lack of access of vaccine continuing to affect diabetic patients across the continent.

According to an analysis conducted by World Health Organization (WHO) in 13 African countries facing underlying conditions in people who tested positive for COVID-19, 10.2% were case fatalities of people living with diabetes against 2.5% which is the overall of all COVID-19 patients in DRC, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Chad, Cote d’Ivore, Namibia, Rwanda, Eswatini, Guinea, Sao Tome and Principe and Uganda.

In a press statement, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said that efforts are ongoing to try and fight against the increase of diabetes amidst the pandemic by vaccinating diabetic patients to prevent a diabetic crisis in Africa even after the pandemic is over.

“COVID-19 is delivering a clear message: fighting the diabetes epidemic in Africa is in many ways as critical as the battle against the current pandemic,” said Dr Moeti.

“The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually subside, but Africa is projected in the coming years to experience the highest increase in diabetes globally. We must act now to prevent new cases, vaccinate people who have this condition and, equally importantly, identify and support the millions of Africans unaware they are suffering from this silent killer.”

Approximately 24 million people in Africa are living with diabetes according to International Diabetes Federation with an increase of 55million expected by 2045 which is 134% from this year and 70% of the people living with diabetes being unaware they have the condition.

“We must act now to prevent new cases. All Africans at risk of diabetes must have access to testing. Health officials in Africa should take advantage of the availability of low cost rapid diagnostic test to routinely test patients in diabetes centers to ensure early detection and proper care. These centers can also be key venues for vaccination,” said Dr Benido Impouma, Director, Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) at the November 11 2021 WHO meeting attended by health officials in Africa.

Dr Impouma added that vaccination for people with underlying conditions globally has been prioritised but Africa has only received 14% of the doses as well as urging people to live a healthy life by having a good diet of food, exercise and glucose monitoring.

In addition, WHO launched the Global Diabetes Compact in April this year to improve quality access to diabetes prevention and care by reducing diabetes risk factors through multi-sectoral population-based health policies and strengthening primary health care for timely diabetes diagnosis and treatment, prioritizing vulnerable populations living with diabetes in different countries.

The CEO of Diabetes Africa Greg Tracz appreciated efforts shown by several society groups to help in the campaign on Diabetes by spreading awareness and demanding for more attention to be directed to it so the patients can continue living life normally without fear of any threats such as inadequate medical services.

“I want to acknowledge the role of civil society organisations that have helped keep the focus in tackling diabetes during the pandemic. In Kenya, the Non-communicable Disease Alliance has been actively advocating for essential diabetic medicines to be covered by the National Health Insurance Fund,” said Tracz.

“Community groups of people living with diabetes, despite the pandemic, these groups have continued to connect and help each other.”

Tracz continued to say that diabetes has faced lack of funding and this has led to inadequate resources as the disease can hardly be managed in terms of early testing hence the health care of the patients is undermined.

In September his year, WHO launched a package of NCDs interventions for primary health care (PEN) to improve the coverage of appropriate services for people with NCDs services in primary care settings and diabetes is among those which have been highly prioritised.