By Joyce Ojanji

With the prevalence of diabetes in Kenya being at 460 cases per every 10,000 people, scientists and researchers have advised on an urgent need to develop preventive interventions targeting modifiable lifestyle factors to reduce the incidence and consequently the rising burden of diabetes in urban settings.

In a qualitative and theory of change development study dubbed ‘Perception of diabetes risk and prevention’ in Nairobi, Kenya Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90–95% of diabetes cases, is increasing in the country, especially in urban settings, and prevention interventions based on local evidence and context are urgently needed.

The scientists suggest that increasing knowledge and understanding about diabetes risk and preventive measures particularly in the low-income community would help in preventing more diabetes cases in Kenya.

They recommend supporting lifestyle modification such as upskilling, goal setting and action planning; identifying people at high risk of diabetes through screening; and creating social and physical environments for lifestyle modification such as positive social influences on healthy living, access to healthy foods and physical activity infrastructure particularly in the low-income community.

According to the study, these interventions are particularly needed in low-income communities where there is low knowledge and understanding of diabetes risk and limited access to physical environments supporting healthy living such as poor active travel infrastructure and unaffordability of healthy foods.

Dr. Mwaniki Elizabeth, a lead researcher for the study, reiterated that diabetes is a threat to the nation since the cases are rising at an alarming rate mainly due to changes in lifestyle leading to increased intake of unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyles and subsequently obesity.

‘’Diabetes is prevalent in both rural and semi-rural counties and women are more affected. Due to unawareness among Kenyans, two-thirds of diabetic patients are undiagnosed. This makes the battle against it a difficult task. There is need for more political will for the implementation of these interventions and meaningful community participation during intervention development,” she said.

Dr. Mwaniki emphasized that the leading challenge against diabetes is late diagnosis. People live with diabetes and are not aware and delayed diabetes diagnosis may contribute to increased diabetes complications and mortality.

“Diabetes prevention initiatives in Kenya should involve multicomponent interventions for lifestyle modification including increasing education and upskilling at the individual level; promoting social and physical environments that support healthy living at the population level; and are particularly needed in low-income communities,’’ she echoed.

“Various resources and stakeholders are needed. Spreading knowledge (increasing awareness) throughout the community would also be important. Awareness-raising resources which include settings (churches, schools, health facilities), mechanisms (mass/social media), or people (health workers, local support groups (e.g., diabetes support groups)), identifying as governments (county and national), development partners (such as non-governmental organizations), local communities (including potential end-users and local leaders), and community-based organizations.’’

Mwaniki observed that the government has done a lot with the limited resources. It has developed national guidelines for the treatment of type 1 and 2 diabetes and a standardized curriculum to train health workers on diabetes management. It has also subsidized insulin and thus improved management and access to diabetes treatment. However, access to consumables such as syringes, lancets and glucometers among others remains a challenge due to other competing needs. The supply of insulin is often out of stock.