Living with diabetes during Covid-19

Checking your blood-glucose levels regularly with a pinprick of blood in a mobile reader such as this one is part of effective diabetes management.              PHOTO: Samantha lee-Jacobs
Checking your blood-glucose levels regularly with a pinprick of blood in a mobile reader such as this one is part of effective diabetes management. PHOTO: Samantha lee-Jacobs

Diabetes is the second highest cause of natural deaths in South Africa but the condition is manageable.

In Statistics South Africa’s most recent mortality report released in 2016, as many as 5.5% of all natural deaths can be attributed to diabetes; only 1% lower than the leading killer: tuberculosis (TB).

By last year, the number of patients recorded to be living with diabetes in the country was 4.5 million, according to the International Diabetes Federation of which South Africa is a member state.

With the disease being listed as one of the main co-morbidities during the current Covid-19 pandemic, it had a dire impact on management and day-to-day life for those living with diabetes.

According to the provincial health department, around 42% of diabetic patients who had contracted Covid-19 and been admitted to hospital had died as a result of the combination.

Diabetes patient Alexis Abrahams says living with the condition is not the “death sentence it is made out to be”.

“Diabetes is so common and, unfortunately, can also be hereditary. Most of my family on my father’s side have diabetes in varying degrees. Mine is manageable, but I have seen how easy it is for people to have strokes or faint because they do not manage it,” she says. “During the pandemic, I needed to be so careful about where I went because they made it clear that we are at higher risk. Covid-19 did not spare us entirely though. Many friends and family members contracted the virus over the months.”

Another diabetes patient Frank Maritz says he has lived with the condition for more than 20 years.

“When I was younger, I lived a dangerous lifestyle. I would eat whatever I wanted, was happy to gain weight and did not care too much about stress or anything else. After having a slight stroke at the age of 47, I started to take my health more seriously. My condition is now under control and I am living a normal and full life,” he says.

As a pensioner living with two comorbidities, the pandemic was a “scary time” for his family. “We are careful but we know no matter how careful we are, we are at risk. We pray to God every day to keep us safe. That is all we can do,” says Maritz.

The provincial health department, in recognising the need for intensified care for patients with comorbidities, initially launched a project to focus on high-risk patients but have now added lower-risk diabetics as well.

The project ensures that when diabetic patients test positive for Covid-19, the department makes daily contact with them. High-risk diabetics are encouraged to be admitted to a hospital in order to monitor their health.

Since its inception, 356 high-risk diabetic patients have been contacted, and of these 122 have been admitted to hospital. Of these, 87 have been discharged, 14 are still in hospital while 11 passed away.

This represents a 79.5% treatment success rate as this group is at a considerably higher risk for severe Covid-19 infection, says the department.

“This focus on those people who are at the greatest risk of severe illness and death means that we are able to intervene early and ensure that proper treatment is given. While it is still early, the results we have seen show that this focus is saving lives,” reads the statement.

Those most at risk of serious illness as a result of Covid-19 are persons over the age of 55 or any adult of any age with an underlying condition.

The most common comorbidities include diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, TB, HIV, chronic lung disease (for example asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis) or cancer and cancer treatment.

  • Should you be living with a comorbidity and be experiencing symptoms, call the provincial hotline on 080 928 4102 for assistance in arranging a test.

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