Diabetes in Zimbabwe: It’s Not All About Sugar

GROWING up in Zimbabwe, diabetes (a polygenic disease characterized by abnormally high glucose levels in the blood) was something that the old people always talked about, and the fear of the disease grew over me like a giant baobab.

To describe a person with diabetes, the old people would say in local parlance “Ane shuga”, which literally means: “He/she has sugar”. Essentially, it meant that the affected person has a disease associated with sugar.

To my childhood fancy, I thought that the people who were affected with the diabetes ate a lot of sugar only to discover later it was the common understanding.

Most people in Zimbabwe associate diabetes with a high intake of sugar, particularly in tea.

Little to no other foods are associated with the onset of this condition. Put simply, very few people know that eating too much of carbohydrates, fats, proteins can increase the incidence of diabetes.

I discovered later that diabetes mellitus occurs when the pancreas does not make enough or any of the hormone insulin, or when the insulin produced doesn’t work effectively. In diabetes, this causes the level of glucose in the blood to be too high.

According to experts, the number of people with diabetes in Zimbabwe is growing. In 2003, Zimbabwe recorded more than 90 000 cases of diabetes, an increased of 3 000 from the 1997 figure.

The Diabetic Association of Zimbabwe estimates that around 400 000 people in the country have the disease but many are unaware on their condition.

“About 50 percent of Zimbabweans are diabetic but are not aware of the condition, so many people are suffering from diabetes but do not have any knowledge about it,” a Zimbabwe Diabetes Association official was quoted in The Herald newspaper.

“It is sad that a lot of people have died because of this disease without knowing it, and only relatives will know about it after a post-mortem has been conducted,” added the official. Continue reading

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Diabetes in Africa: The Silent Killer That’s Everyone’s Business

Diabetes is a silent killer in Africa. In comparison to other diseases such as AIDS or malaria among others, diabetes rarely makes any news headlines. Neither does it attract funding. Yet, the statistics of people affected by the disease in the continent are quite shocking and merit public health and policy-making and funding attention.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 10 million people in Africa have diabetes. The disease is also ranked as the fourth leading cause of death in developing countries, and the number of people suffering from diabetes is expected to rise to almost 20 million by 2025.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) contends that diabetes is already a major public health problem in Africa and its impact is bound to increase significantly if nothing is done to curb the rising rate of impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), which now exceeds 16% in some countries.

In addition, IDF projects that the prevalence rate will shoot up by 95 percent by 2010 from the current 0.5 to 3 percent range across the continent.

“Many people, including children, die from lack of insulin, and it is likely that many die of diabetes before even being diagnosed, let alone treated,” states the IDF. “Still more suffer debilitating consequences of diabetes such as amputation and blindness.”

For many people in Africa, diabetes is not a major concern. Compounded with little public health information about diabetes, many people wait until it’s too late to seek medical attention for diabetes.

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