Africa’s death rates from Covid-19 infections are significantly higher in patients with diabetes, a preliminary analysis by the WHO has shown, as the world marked diabetes day on November 14.
But to compound this problem, WHO disease investigators say, is the fact that many people living with diabetes are not even aware of it, because they are undiagnosed and are therefore susceptible to severe illness from the Covid virus and die from it.
The study spanned 13 countries; Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo, Burkina Faso, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, eSwatini, Guinea, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, Seychelles and Sao Tome and Principe.
“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,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, ahead of World Diabetes Day and called for more effort in identifying “the millions of Africans unaware they suffer from this silent killer.”
Data analysis on underlying conditions or comorbidities in Africans who tested positive for Covid-19, and revealed that at least 10.2 percent case fatality was from patients with diabetes, compared with 2.5 percent for Covid-19 patients overall.
The fatality rate for people with diabetes was also twice as high as that among patients suffering any other comorbidity. In addition to people with diabetes, the three most frequent underlying conditions are HIV and hypertension.
In the DR Congo, it was determined from the analysis of a small sample of 250 people who died of Covid, that 30 percent of them had diabetes.
The Covid-19 pandemic will eventually subside, but Africa is projected in the coming years to experience the highest increase in diabetes globally and must, therefore prevent new cases, and vaccinate people who have this condition against Covid.
Diabetes impairs the body’s ability to produce or process insulin, a substance essential to counteracting a dangerous rise in blood sugar.
The disease causes inflammation and poor blood circulation, both of which increase the risk of complications, including death, from Covid-19.
The International Diabetes Federation estimates that 24 million people are living with diabetes in Africa in 2021 and the number is predicted to rise to 55 million by 2045 — a 134 percent increase.