On 14 November each year, WHO joins the international community in observing World Diabetes Day.
This year’s theme is “the family and diabetes” because managing diabetes impacts not only the patient, but those closest to them. This chronic disease requires a healthy lifestyle, with daily treatment and monitoring. The associated health-care costs can also push families into poverty.
Diabetes occurs when blood sugar is elevated. Type 1 happens when the pancreas is not producing enough insulin. Type 2, accounting for around 90% of cases, occurs when the body is unable to effectively use the insulin it produces. If not managed properly, diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure, lower limb amputations, and other complications.
In the African Region, the prevalence of diabetes has more than doubled, among adults 20 years and over, from 3.1% in 1980 to 7.1% in 2014. In countries, prevalence of raised blood sugar ranges from 3% in Togo and Benin to 23% in Niger (almost one in four people). Unfortunately, half the people with diabetes are not aware they have this disease.
Some risk factors for type 2 diabetes cannot be modified, such as genetics, ethnicity and age. However, together we can act on others such as unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and using tobacco products.
WHO is working with countries across Africa to improve prevention and management of diabetes. This includes building capacity to monitor the burden through surveys using the WHO STEPwise approach to noncommunicable disease surveillance (STEPS) and ensuring health services for diabetes are available as part of primary health care, using the WHO Package of Essential Noncommunicable Diseases (PEN) services.
Seychelles and South Africa have enacted laws to tax sugar-sweetened beverages, which will contribute to reduced consumption – in turn, preventing obesity and diabetes.
We are also supporting countries to pursue innovations, such as in Benin, where artificial intelligence is being used for early diagnosis of diabetes and in Senegal where the health sector is using mobile technology to educate patients on the treatment of type 2 diabetes to improve medication compliance.
Together, we are making essential medicines more affordable. In Africa, in the public sector, the price of a 10 millilitre vial of insulin at the point of care has decreased from a regional average of US$ 20 in 2014 to US$ 1.14 in 2018.
While this progress is encouraging, the burden of diabetes is increasing, and we need to do more to curb it.
So today, I call on all families to act on diabetes by:
- maintaining healthy diets by consuming less than six teaspoons of sugar each day (including sugar added to food and drinks by companies, cooks or consumers and sugars in honey and fruit juices),
- being more physically active – a brisk 30-minute walk each day will help, and
- checking individual body weight, body mass index and blood sugar at least annually in the general population and more often for people at higher-risk of diabetes.
I urge governments to enact and implement laws and policies that enable people to lead healthy lifestyles and to ensure essential medicines and technologies are available in the public sector.
Together, we can reduce the incidence of diabetes, ensure quality care for people living with diabetes as part of universal health coverage, and promote better well-being for families across the Region.