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