Undiagnosed diabetes a COVID risk in Africa: WHO

Published : November 12, 2021 18:29 IST

Not only are diabetes rates rising as living standards improve in Africa, the disease is thought to be severely underdiagnosed. Photo: CHASSENET/BSIP/picture alliance

A 10.2 per cent case fatality rate was found in COVID-19 patients with diabetes, compared with 2.5 per cent for COVID patients overall.

Death rates from COVID-19 infections are higher in patients with diabetes in Africa, where the number of people with diabetes is also growing rapidly, the World Health Organization warned on November 11. A WHO preliminary analysis of data from 13 African countries found a 10.2 per cent case fatality rate in COVID-19 patients with diabetes, compared with 2.5 per cent for COVID-19 patients overall. This matches similar known data about diabetes sufferers being at increased risk from COVID.

"COVID-19 is delivering a clear message: fighting the diabetes epidemic in Africa is in many ways as critical as the battle against the current pandemic," Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said ahead of World Diabetes Day on November 14. An estimated 24 million people are living with diabetes in Africa, according to the International Diabetes Federation. The number of Africans suffering from the disease is predicted to rise to 55 million by 2045 as living standards continue to improve.

Diagnosis shortfalls an added risk

The WHO warned that the high number of suspected undiagnosed diabetes cases in Africa was a particular cause for concern. Estimates point to around 70 per cent of African diabetes sufferers not knowing they have the disease. "We must act now to prevent new cases, vaccinate people who have this condition and, equally importantly, identify and support the millions of Africans unaware they are suffering from this silent killer," Moeti said.

About 90 per cent of diabetes cases globally, and the vast majority in Africa, are type 2, as the continent starts to share the problems of poor diets and sedentary lifestyles that were once primarily prevalent in wealthier parts of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has also severely disrupted access to diabetes care throughout Africa.

Lockdowns to limit the spread of the virus, for example, have hampered access to health care and the basic elements of proper disease management, such as routine glucose monitoring and eating a healthy diet, the WHO said. In addition to COVID-19 risks, diabetes can also increase risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, lower limb amputation, visual impairment, blindness and nerve damage.

The countries contributing data to WHO's analysis were Burkina Faso, Chad, Ivory Coast, Congo, Eswatini, Guinea, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sao Tome and Principe and Uganda.

mvb/msh (AFP, Reuters)