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Diabetes Treatment: A Lifesaver Everywhere Except Africa

Diabetes is surging in sub-Saharan Africa. Though doctors know how to treat it, access to health care is precarious; some patients don't even seek it.

Children born with Type 1 diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa died in childhood, said Biyi Adesina, a diabetologist in Nigeria. That was certainly true until very recently. Now, increased awareness of the condition throughout the region has allowed many of children with Type 1 diabetes, who depend on daily insulin injections, to live past their first and second birthdays.

“Sometimes the parents will prefer that [their children] die,” he said. “We listen to young people who say, ‘My parents would prefer that I die so I won't continue to be a burden.' They just cannot afford insulin.”

This is a common story of diabetes, both Types 1 and 2, in sub-Saharan Africa.

Although doctors know how to diagnose and treat the non-communicable disease, there is no existing infrastructure to ensure patients receive the prohibitively expensive care they need.

Data show people with diabetes are dying unnecessarily in sub-Saharan Africa

The number of diabetes cases in sub-Saharan Africa has increased tenfold since 2000, a development largely attributed to globalization and industrialization in the region.

Unlike 20 years ago, people are now driving cars, working in sedentary and consuming more junk food, which is cheap and ubiquitous in countries, including Nigeria, Adesina said.

Diabetes killed more than 416,100 people in sub-Saharan Africa in 2021, according to data from the Diabetes Federation.

During the same year in the African region, Health Organization data show that about 410,000 people died of HIV/AIDs related diseases, about 365,000 of tuberculosis and another 580,000 died of malaria.

In an article published by The Lancet medical journal, project that non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, and particularly Type 2 diabetes, would overtake “communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional diseases combined” as the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa by 2023.

These statistics and projections only offer a glimpse into the breadth of the problem. Diabetes is severely underdiagnosed in sub-Saharan Africa — doctors estimate that some 50% of cases go undocumented.


The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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