One in five virus deaths in Africa is of a diabetic

Tuesday December 01 2020

Diabetes was found to increase the risk of death from Covid-19 by more than two-fold. PHOTO | FILE | NMG

By Elizabeth Merab

About one in five or 18.3 percent of Covid-19 deaths in Africa were found to be among people with diabetes, an analysis by the World Health Organisation found.

By November 24, the continent had recorded 2,080,923 cases and 49,975 deaths, a caseload much lower in both absolute and per capita terms than those of Europe and the Americas.

The WHO analysis of 14 African countries showed that the risk of complications or death from Covid-19 among people with diabetes increases with age, with people aged 60 years and above facing greater risks. Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke, and lower limb amputation, but with early diagnosis and treatment, many of the harmful effects of the disease can be delayed or even avoided. The disease occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (type 1 diabetes) or when the body can’t effectively use the insulin it produces (type 2 diabetes). Type 2 diabetes is more common.

The disease has been found to increase the risk of death by more than two folds compared with patients who were non-diabetic. Over the past three decades, the occurrence of type 2 diabetes has risen dramatically in all countries around the world. The African region has experienced a six-fold increase, from four million cases in 1980 to 25 million in 2014. WHO estimates that six percent of the world’s population has diabetes.

With around 60 percent of people living with diabetes undiagnosed, the African region has the highest proportion of people unaware of their status. Further, the continent is also witnessing a rise in diabetes risk factors such as obesity. An increasingly sedentary lifestyle and consuming foods rich in sugar, fats, and salt are heightening obesity.

“People with this chronic condition suffer a double blow if they are also infected with Covid-19,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.