Dealing with diabetes in Africa | Africa | DW | 14.11.2014
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Africa

Dealing with diabetes in Africa

Africa is not immune to diabetes, a disease long considered to be restricted to the affluent west. It is spreading globally and this can also be seen in Africa where new lifestyles are being adopted.

November 14 is World Diabetes Day. In 2014, the disease is a growing problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), close to 350 million people are suffering from diabetes across the globe. If left untreated it can kill - and figures from the WHO say that in 2012 it was responsible for the deaths of one and a half million people. It is an issue that is increasingly affecting Africa as lifestyles become more sedentary and people move away from traditional foods and diets.

90 percent of people who have diabetes suffer from what is known as type 2 diabetes. This is largely the result of excess body weight and lack of physical exercise. This used to be only found in adults, but is now also found in children. Type 1 diabetes develops in childhood and is not preventable.

Insulin being injected into a stomach

Diabetes sufferers learn how to inject themselves with insulin

In the West African state of Ghana, a large percentage of the population suffers from type 2 diabetes, Elizabeth Denyoh, president of Ghana's National Diabetes Association, said in an interview with DW's AfricaLink program. The country has no national diabetes program and, Denyou said, "there are problems with Value Added Tax and import duties on products to treat diabetes." She said negotiations were underway with parliament to find a way to waive the import duties.

In Ghana, "most people diagnosed with diabetes are the poorest of the poor. There is a lot of Type 1 diabetes in rural areas," Denyoh said. This counters the prevailing myth that diabetes is a disease of the rich west.

Old people abandoned

The United Nations Center for Human Rights and Democracy recently published a report stating that elderly people suffering from diseases including diabetes are increasingly being abandoned by their families in Central Africa. At the same time the number of people in the region aged 60 and above is growing.

67-year-old Olivia Yabit lives in an old people's home in the Cameroonian capital Younde. She told DW she had been abandoned by her only son after she was diagnosed with diabetes.

Two elderly African men

Elderly people in Africa can no longer rely on their families to care for them

That is not unusual, said Serge Ndis who works at another old people's home in the Nkomkana district of Yaounde. "People come and abandon their aged relatives here. They do not even come and find out how their old and sick parents are doing," he told DW. Out of the 70 old people Ndis cares for, 30 suffer from diabetes.

Dr Ndi Richard Tantoh is the author of the study conducted by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Central Africa and international NGO Ecumenical Service for Peace. He told DW that old people in Central Africa are increasingly finding themselves in a very difficult situation. "It is as if they have been completely abandoned, with no measures taken by either the government or even by relatives." This was a break with African culture where the young have traditionally taken care of the old, he said.

Need for public awareness campaigns

In Ghana, the cost of caring for diabetes patients is a problem, Elizabeth Denyoh said. She said some parents are even abandoning their children in the hospitals because they cannot pay the bills. "It costs about 300 Ghanaian cedis ($93.4, 75 euros) a month to properly take care of someone with diabetes." That's how much many Ghanaians earn a month.

Several people being tested for diabetes

These people are being tested for diabetes - but there is still a need for more public awareness

Ghana's National Diabetes Association has just held a forum in which members of the public were invited to come and ask questions about the disease. It revealed that many people are uninformed. "People asked questions like: what is diabetes? What are the symptoms? What should one eat?" Denyoh said.

Signs that someone could be suffering from diabetes are weight loss, despite eating and drinking normally, and a frequent need to urinate. Denyoh advises people with such symptoms to go to their nearest health facility for a checkup. Children who appear withdrawn, do not gain weight and often wet the bed, should also be checked.

Diabetes is a global as well as an African problem. Some answers have been found. For the management of type 2 diabetes, the US-based Mayo Clinic recommends healthy eating, regular exercise, diabetes medication or insulin therapy and blood sugar monitoring.

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