Expert says spike in diabetes cases in SA is a ‘wake up call’

Cases of diabetes are on the rise in South Africa. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images
Cases of diabetes are on the rise in South Africa. Picture: iStock/Gallo Images

New figures from the International Diabetes Federation paint a shocking picture: South Africa is in the top 10 countries which have recorded an increase in diabetes prevalence.

At 12.8%, the country is now 137% higher than previously reported cases of diabetes.

More than 4.5 million adults are estimated to be living with diabetes – putting them at risk of life-threatening complications. More than 2-million of these patients are undiagnosed and as a result may be particularly at risk.

“The increasing prevalence of diabetes in South Africa is a wake-up call,” said Dr Dinky Levitt from Groote Schuur Hospital and University of Cape Town, and member of the IDF Diabetes Atlas Committee.

On World Diabetes Day – November 14 – the federation has highlighted the alarming growth in the prevalence of diabetes around the world.

About 38 million more adults are now living with diabetes globally compared to 2017. Globally, about 463 million adults are living with diabetes, 19 million of them in Africa. Type 2 diabetes accounts for up to 90% of the total.

The rise in the number of people with Type 2 diabetes is driven by a complex interplay of socioeconomic, demographic, environmental and genetic factors.

Key contributors include urbanisation, an ageing population, decreasing levels of physical activity and increased levels of overweight and obesity.

For unknown reasons, Type 1 diabetes is also on the rise.Diabetes has an impact on all age groups, regardless of geography and income.“Diabetes is a serious threat to global health that respects neither socioeconomic status nor national boundaries,” said Levitt.

She added that a lot can be done to reduce the impact of diabetes. 

“We have evidence that Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented, while early diagnosis and access to appropriate care for all types of diabetes can avoid or delay complications in people living with the condition.

Therefore we must do more to prevent Type 2 diabetes, diagnose all forms of diabetes early and prevent complications. Importantly, we must ensure that every person with diabetes has uninterrupted access to the quality care they need in their communities.”

Globally, more than 1.1 million children and adolescents are living with Type 1 diabetes, while three in four people with diabetes (352 million) are of working age (20-64 years).

The rise in prevalence of diabetes is putting a strain on the capacity of countries to guarantee regular and affordable access to essential medicines and appropriate care.

This leaves many people struggling to manage their diabetes, placing their health at serious risk.When their diabetes is undetected or when they are inadequately supported, people with diabetes are at risk of serious and life-threatening complications such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness and lower-limb amputations.

These result in reduced quality of life and higher healthcare costs and place undue stress on families.

Other key global findings from the IDF Diabetes Atlas 9th Edition

• Diabetes is among the top 10 causes of death, with up to half of deaths occurring in people under the age of 60.

• The total number of people with diabetes is predicted to rise to 578 million by 2030 and to 700 million by 2045.

• 374 million adults have impaired glucose tolerance, placing them at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

• Diabetes was responsible for an estimated $760 billion in healthcare expenditure in 2019

• One in six live births are affected by hyperglycaemia in pregnancy.

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