Diabetes cases in Africa to double in next 25 years



The numbers of people with diabetes in Africa will more than double over the next 25 years, warned WHO and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) during the joint WHO–IDF Workshop on Healthcare Coverage held in Dakar, Senegal, 1–3 April 2004. Representatives and diabetes experts from 13 French-speaking African countries attended the workshop in order to address the growing burden of diabetes in Africa.

"All African countries are struggling to care for the large number of people with diabetes, especially in urban centres," said Dr Nigel Unwin from WHO's Management of Non-communicable Diseases department. He also estimated that more than 80% of people with diabetes in Africa remain undiagnosed. In 2000, there were 7.5 million cases of diabetes in the continent. By 2030, this figure is expected to rise to around 18.2 million. "Despite this shocking trend, awareness about the importance of diabetes in Africa is poor," he added.

Low awareness amongst the public and primary health-care practitioners was highlighted as one of the major challenges faced by African countries in the prevention and cover of diabetes care. But as long as diabetes remains a low priority on national healthcare agendas, which in part reflects the low priority accorded by international funding bodies, this is unlikely to change. And the same can be said for the lack of funding and resources for national diabetes programmes, epidemiological studies and for the education and training of health care-personnel. Other obstacles to tackling the problem include a shortage of national insulin banks, diabetes specialists and centres in rural areas.

Leaving the problem unaddressed could be costly, warned Niek Sniekers, Vice President of Corporate Diabetes Programmes at Novo Nordisk, a health-care company with headquarters in Denmark, working with WHO and IDF to combat the disease.

"The increase in diabetes and its associated complications could have huge implications for the lay population in Africa and a massive impact on national healthcare budgets, due to loss of productivity," said Sniekers.

In order to tackle the burden of diabetes in Africa, WHO and IDF, with the support of Novo Nordisk, are currently pursuing various activities to combat the disease at all levels. The objectives of the Dakar workshop were to contribute to capacity building in the management of national diabetes control programmes and to update participants with the skills and knowledge required to assess the coverage and quality of care at country level and to outline an improved framework for this assessment.

Currently, there are three main initiatives under development. The Declaration of Africa on Diabetes aims to engage governments in African countries, nongovernmental organizations, industry partners, health-care professionals, and national diabetes coordinators in the fight to reduce the impact of diabetes. The draft document, originally prepared in May 2003, will be presented by national diabetes representatives to their national health ministers following peer-review.

World Health Organization Genebra - Genebra - Switzerland
E-mail: bulletin@who.int