Diabetes is a growing problem all over the world and at the rate at which people are currently being diagnosed, it will become a bigger killer than HIV/Aids and tuberculosis (TB), says mayoral committee member for health, Siyabulela Mamkeli.
This year the World Health Organisation (WHO) has singled out diabetes for World Health Day which was marked on Thursday April 7, as it has become one of the biggest threats to public health.
Mr Mamkeli said according to the WHO, about 350 million people worldwide have diabetes and added that the disease was responsible for 1.5 million deaths in 2012, mostly in low- and middle income countries. “Unless something drastic is done to develop awareness around prevention and to ensure optimal diabetic treatment control, South Africa is in for another health crisis.
“Many patients with diabetes have no symptoms or very mild symptoms and go undiagnosed until they develop diabetic complications. To prevent this situation, adults should visit a healthcare facility to do random glucose tests for diabetes screening,” she said.
In Mitchell’s Plain, a group of 120 people are working hard to ensure residents are educated about the disease. The Mitchell’s Plain Diabetes Support Group, started 16 years ago, is based at the Mitchell’s Plain Town Centre library and meets every second Thursday from 10am until noon.
The group’s chairperson, Carol Hendricks, said the group does blood pressure and glucose level checks, health talks and physical activities.
“Our aim is to educate as many diabetics (as possible) about the dangers of diabetes. We get health professionals (as) speakers to empower and educate people about diabetes. We also do a fun walk in the comunity and go on outings. We are appealing to residents to take care of themselves and try to live a healthy life. To the diabetics, be more aware of your disease, it is a silent killer. It eats your organs and can lead to stroke, blindness, heart attacks, kidney failure and amputations,” she said.
Mr Mamkeli said generally, patients will receive advice on diabetes prevention to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, such as tips to lead a healthier lifestyle, which may include losing weight, exercising and changing one’s diet.
He added that people who are at high risk of developing diabetes are those who are overweight, inactive, hypertensive or have a family history of diabetes.
“Unfortunately we have a struggle on our hands. Many people simply do not take issues like diabetes seriously enough until they are diagnosed and it’s too late. We need to look after our health – from what we are eating to whether we are keeping active.
“Lifestyle is as important if not more so than treatment and medication. We need to move away from the idea that pills can fix everything. Prevention through good habits is a much better option,” he said.
Mr Mamkeli said it is a known fact that people with diabetes have a much higher risk of developing TB and that every new case diagnosed with diabetes must be screened for TB.
“Conversely, if a diagnosis of TB is made, it is imperative that the patient be screened for diabetes. So the health impact is actually potentially much more serious than we might think. Treatment of diabetes is aimed at preventing complications associated with the condition.
“The corrosive effect of high levels of blood sugar for a prolonged period of time can lead to organ damage like kidney failure, blindness, heart disease and strokes. In addition to controlling blood sugar levels, dietary changes like reducing sugar and starch intake are also advocated,” he said.