COVID-19 blow to diabetes care: Africa cases to more than double

Ahead of World Diabetes Day, WHO urged governments to invest in diagnosis, health worker training to prevent surge 

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Monday 15 November 2021
COVID-19 worsened access to diabetes care in Africa, cases to go up 134%  by 2045: WHO

The number of diabetes cases in Africa is predicted to rise to 55 million by 2045, an increase of 134 per cent from 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned. 

The rate of deaths due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the continent is significantly higher in patients with diabetes, WHO said in an analysis presented days before the World Diabetes Day on November 14.

The United Nations health agency studied 13 African countries and found the case fatality rate (CFR) was 10.2 per cent in patients with diabetes compared to 2.5 per cent for COVID-19 patients overall. The CFR among diabetics was also twice as high as that among patients suffering any other comorbidity or underlying condition, the report showed. 

An estimated 24 million people are living with diabetes in Africa in 2021, according to the International Diabetes Federation.  Around 70 per cent of those with the disease do not know they have the disease, according to the WHO statement. 

Poor diet and increasingly inactive lifestyles are blamed for diabetes in Africa, the agency noted. 

Improving access to diagnostics, medicines and monitoring devices that help with diabetes management will be the theme of the observance till 2023. 

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said:

I ask governments to invest in making essential products like insulin, blood glucometers and test strips available to all communities. This should be backed by training of health workers in non-communicable disease prevention and management at the district and community level towards improving service availability. 

He also urged every diabetes patient to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves from severe infection.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also severely disrupted access to diabetes care throughout Africa, where most countries have very low vaccination rates. In 31 African countries, over 6.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have gone to Africans with co-morbidities, representing 14 per cent of all doses administered so far.

Data for the analysis was gathered from Burkina Faso, Chad, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Guinea, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sao Tome and Principe and Uganda.

Africa has limited capacity for vaccine production. Only Tunisia, Senegal, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa have varying capabilities to produce and fill or finish vaccines

WHO launched the Global Diabetes Compact in April 2021 to improve equitable access to quality diabetes care. This builds on work in recent years to roll out the WHO Package of Essential Non-communicable Disease interventions for primary healthcare in low-resource settings. So far 21 African countries have been using this package. 

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