Updated 14 November 2018

Calls for SA to ramp up diabetes fight after shocking new stats

New research from the International Diabetes Federation shows that almost 80% of South African parents would have trouble recognising the warning signs of diabetes in their own children.

Almost 80% of South African parents would have trouble recognising the warning signs of diabetes in their own children and delayed diagnosis has serious consequences including amputations. 

This is according to new research released by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) on Wednesday: World Diabetes Day. 

On Sunday KwaZulu-Natal MEC for health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo revealed that six amputations occur every single day, or 2500 a year, in his province alone. 

But Professor Thifheli Luvhengo Clinical Head of the Department of Surgery at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital said this is a nation-wide crisis where failing to prevent and manage the disease is causing widespread preventable disability. 

“Diabetes patients are filling up our surgical wards to the point where I can say HIV is a small problem compared to diabetes,” he said. 

According to Luvhengo the high costs of treating the disease and its complications, especially amputations which can render people unable to work, is “going to destroy the economy of this country”. 

According to the IDF “a lack of knowledge about diabetes means that spotting the warning signs is not just a problem for parents, but is an issue impacting a cross-section of society”.

“Left untreated or unmanaged, diabetes can lead to life-changing complications [including] blindness, amputation, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke,” said the organisation. 

They said that this is a “major concern” because sings of type 2 diabetes, responsible for 90% of cases, can be mild. 

These signs include frequent urination, excessive thirst, increased hunger, weight loss, tiredness, blurred vision, frequent infections, slow-healing wounds and a tingling sensation or numbness in the hands and feet, according to the Department of Health (DoH).

Life-threatening disease 

In 2016, diabetes killed more women in South Africa than any other disease as revealed by the latest data from Statistics South Africa. 

“Diabetes can become a life-threatening disease. It has devastating complications if not treated early and managed appropriately,” said IDF President Professor Nam H. Cho. 

The DoH conservatively estimates that one out of three people with diabetes don’t know they have the condition and about a quarter of newly diagnosed patients have already developed complications.
Cho said that many people “particularly in developing countries” are “diagnosed too late when complications are already present”.

“This is unacceptable and needs to change as a matter of urgency.” 

The IDF’s Dr Belma Malanda told Health-e News that, “as a leading country in the region” South Africa needs to set an example in terms of ramping up prevention measures and access to quality care. 

“Anything that starts in South Africa would impact neighbouring countries in a positive way so we really need South Africa to play that role,” he said.

– Health-e News

Image credit: iStock


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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