Message of the WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti on World Diabetes Day, 14 November 2017

Today, November 14, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa joins the international community in commemorating World Diabetes Day 2017, under the theme “Women and diabetes - our right to a healthy future”. This is a day to re-commit ourselves to strengthening the prevention and control of diabetes in our region.

Globally, there has been a dramatic rise in obesity among children and adolescent aged between 5-19 years old from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016. It is now estimated that one in five children or adolescents are either overweight or obese. In Africa, the number of children who are overweight or obese has nearly doubled since 1990, increasing from 5.4 million to 10.3 million. Overweight and obese children are likely to become overweight and obese adults. In the African region, in 2014, it was estimated that 22.9% of men and 38.6% of women above the age of 18 were obese. Overweight and obesity are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers in later life. Overweight and obese children and adolescents also experience psycho-social problems such as bullying, stigma and poor education attainment).

The growing prevalence of obesity and overweight is due to a combination of poor diets resulting from aggressive marketing of foods rich in fats, sugar, and salt; relatively unaffordable healthy nutritious foods for poor families and communities, and inadequate physical activity among children, adolescents and adults.

Reducing the prevalence of diabetes type 2 requires a life-course approach starting early in childhood and continuing throughout adolescence and adulthood. Healthy nutritious diets should be available at home and school especially for poor families and communities. Children and adolescents should be supported and encouraged to engage in physical activity at home and school to ensure that they grow into healthy adults.

During pregnancy some women may experience a temporary rise in blood glucose above normal but still below those diagnostic of diabetes. This condition is commonly referred to as gestational diabetes. Overweight or obesity or excess weight-gain during pregnancy increases the risk of gestational diabetes or diabetes in pregnancy. Diabetes in pregnancy and gestational diabetes increase the risk of future obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as complications during pregnancy, labour and delivery including stillbirth.

It is advisable that governments take bold measures to ensure that women and girls have access to services for screening for diabetes, adequate care including medication, counselling and information on diabetes. Policies that increase availability of nutritious and healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables should be promoted. Fiscal measures should be taken to increase the price of foods high in fat, sugar and salt in order to reduce their consumption. Physical activity should be promoted in every setting including at home, school, city walkways, streets, roads and at the work place. WHO will continue to support governments in their efforts to improve the prevention and control of diabetes and other non-communicable diseases.

I thank you.