COVID-19 deadlier in Africans with diabetes

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Brazzaville, November 11, 2021 – The sharp rise in diabetes in Africa collides with the COVID-19 pandemic and poor access to vaccines. Africa’s death rates from COVID-19 infections are significantly higher in patients with diabetes, according to a preliminary analysis released by the World Health Organization (WHO) today ahead of World Diabetes Day on November 14th.

“COVID-19 sends a clear message: The fight against the diabetes epidemic in Africa is in many ways just as important as the fight against the current pandemic,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually subside, but Africa is expected to see the highest increase in diabetes in the world in the years to come. We must act now to prevent new cases, vaccinate people with the disease and, just as important, identify and support the millions of Africans who do not know they are suffering from this silent killer. “

Diabetes affects the body’s ability to produce or process insulin, a substance necessary to counteract dangerous increases in blood sugar. The disease causes inflammation and poor blood circulation, both of which increase the risk of complications, including death, from COVID-19.

A current WHO analysis evaluated data from 13 countries on underlying diseases or comorbidities in Africans who tested positive for COVID-19. It found a 10.2% mortality rate in patients with diabetes compared to 2.5% in COVID-19 patients overall. The death rate for people with diabetes was also twice as high as the death rate for patients with comorbidity. In addition to people with diabetes, the three most common underlying diseases also included patients with HIV and high blood pressure.

The countries that contributed data to the analysis were Burkina Faso, Chad, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eswatini, Guinea, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sao Tome and Principe, and Uganda.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, an estimated 24 million people are living with diabetes in Africa in 2021, and the continent is projected to experience the highest increase in diabetes in the world, with the number of Africans suffering from the disease rising to 55 million by 2045 134% increase from 2021. Africa has the highest number of people not knowing their diagnosis – an estimated 70% of people with diabetes do not know they have the disease.

“Health officials in Africa should take advantage of the increasing availability of inexpensive, rapid diagnostic tests to routinely test patients in diabetes centers to ensure early detection and adequate care,” said Dr Bureau for Africa. “These centers can also be important places for vaccinations.”

Since the early days of the pandemic, people with diabetes have been a priority in countries around the world to get COVID-19 vaccinations. Africa faced challenges with this strategy.

Access to vaccines remains poor. So far, only 6.6% of the African population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to around 40% worldwide. Data from 37 countries shows that over 6.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given to Africans with comorbidities since March 2021, representing 14% of all doses given to date. Efforts to prioritize people with comorbidities like diabetes are increasing, with roughly half the 6.5 million doses given in just the past few months. However, much remains to be done to ensure that people at high risk receive the vaccines they need.

“Nine months since the COVID-19 vaccination campaigns began in Africa, we are still nowhere near where we need to be to protect our most vulnerable people,” said Dr. Moeti. “There is an urgent need to step up vaccinations and other critical services for people at high risk, including diabetics.”

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 is caused by a disease in early life that damages the pancreas and affects insulin production; and type 2 – associated with poor diet, obesity, and sedentary lifestyle – where the body has difficulty processing insulin. About 90% of diabetes cases worldwide, and the vast majority in Africa, are type 2 diabetes, with rising rates in Africa being due to the same poor diet and sedentary lifestyles that are leading to increases in type 2 diabetes worldwide. In addition to the COVID-19 risks, diabetes can also increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, lower limb amputation, visual impairment, blindness, and nerve damage including erectile dysfunction.

“All Africans at risk of diabetes must have access to tests,” said Dr. Moeti. “We can also prevent diabetes from claiming more lives by promoting healthy, affordable nutrition and regular exercise.”

Access to diabetes care in the African region was severely restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, lockdowns to limit the spread of COVID-19 have hampered access to health care and basic elements of proper disease management, such as routine glucose monitoring and a healthy diet.

To improve equal access to high-quality diabetes care, the WHO launched the Global Diabetes Compact in April 2021. This builds on the work of the last few years to introduce the WHO Package for Basic Noncommunicable Diseases (WHO PEN) for primary health care in resource-poor environments. So far, 21 African countries have started using this package. Benin, Eritrea, Eswatini, Lesotho and Togo have achieved national expansion to include all primary health care facilities.

WHO held a virtual press conference today, moderated by the APO group. Dr. Impouma was accompanied by Professor Maïmouna Ndour Mbaye, Head of the Department of Internal Medicine at Cheikh Anta Diop University of Dakar and Director of the National Diabetes Center, Senegal, and Greg Tracz, Chief Executive Officer, Diabetes Africa.

Dr. Phionah Atuhebwe, New Vaccine Adoption Officer, WHO Regional Office for Africa, Dr. Thierno Balde, Regional COVID-19 Incident Manager, WHO Regional Office for Africa, and Dr. Jean-Marie Dangou, Coordinator, Noncommunicable Diseases Program, WHO Regional Office for Africa.

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Please click on the following link to access explanations, audio files and soundbites as they become available: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1GEytIMKTs_Ke5zz52eXwVVxT2iSn1hN7

Media contacts:

Collins Boakye-Agyemang

Communications officer

WHO Regional Office for Africa

[email protected]

Tel: + 242 06 520 65 65

Saya okay

Communication manager

WHO Regional Office for Africa

[email protected]

Tel: +242 065 081 009


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