Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
4 minute read
12 Nov 2021
9:22 am

1 in 9 South Africans live with diabetes, 1 in 2 don’t know

Renate Engelbrecht

The International Diabetes Federation recently released concerning statistics, stating that 1 in 9 adults in South Africa, equating to 4 million citizens, now live with diabetes.

Diabates. Picture: iStock

The International Diabetes Federation has just released new figures from the 10th edition of the IDF Diabetes Atlas ahead of International Diabetes Day, taking place on 14 November.

The IDF Diabetes Atlas is due to be published on 6 December and it indicates that 537 million adults now live with the disease worldwide. This comes with a 16% increase (74 million) since the previous estimates published in 2019.

According to the latest figures, 4.2 million South African adults – that’s 1 in 9 adults – are living with the disease, with just under half of them being undiagnosed.

Its prevalence in South Africa has reached a new height of 11.3% – the highest in Africa – and the country will register an estimated 96,000 deaths due to the disease in 2021. The cost of diabetes-related health expenditures has evidently risen to $1,700 per person.

The key findings from the IDF Diabetes Atlas 10th Edition:

  • 1 in 10 Adults globally are currently living with diabetes with the total number predicted to rise to 643 million by 2030 and to 783 million by 2045.
  • 1 in 22 adults in Africa live with diabetes.
  • Worldwide, an estimated 240 million people are living with it undiagnosed, with 13 million of them living in Africa.
  • The disease was responsible for around $966 billion in global health expenditure in 2021 alone. That is a 316% increase over 15 years. Africa accounts for 1% of the global expenditure.
  • Excluding the mortality risks associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, round about 6.7 million adults are estimated to have died as a result of diabetes, or its complications in 2021. That is more than 1 in 10 of global deaths from all causes.
  • Africa accounts for 6% of total diabetes-related deaths.

According to CDE, more than 3 in 4 people with diabetes live in low-income and middle-income countries, and two-thirds of people live in urban areas with three-quarters of them being of working age. 1 In 5 people with the disease are said to be above the age of 65.

The CDE also says 1 in 6 live births are affected by high blood glucose (hyperglycaemia) in pregnancy.

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What causes diabetes?

Globally, 90% of people with the disease suffer from type 2 diabetes. The rise in the number of people with type 2 diabetes is said to be driven by a complex interplay of socio-economic, demographic, environmental and genetic factors.

Key contributors include urbanisation, an ageing population, decreasing levels of physical activity and increasing levels of people being overweight and developing obesity.

The risks

When diabetes is undetected or inadequately treated, people with the disease are at risk of serious, life-threatening complications like heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, and lower-limb amputation. This ultimately also reduces a person’s quality of life, and it increases healthcare costs, leading to a greater need for access to care.

1 in 3 South African adults have impaired fasting glucose (IFG) – the highest IFG prevalence in the world – which places them at high risk of developing the disease.

What’s to be done?

Professor Ayesha Motala, head of the department of diabetes and endocrinology school of clinical medicine at University of Kwazulu-Natal, says: “The increasing prevalence of diabetes in South Africa confirms diabetes is a significant challenge to the health and well-being of individuals and families in the country.”

While this year marks 100 years since discovering insulin, it is concerning to see the numbers of South Africans living with diabetes increase so drastically.

Motala says: “We need to do more to provide affordable and uninterrupted access to diabetes care for all people who require it in South Africa, and around the world. Much can be done to reduce the impact of diabetes. We have evidence that type 2 diabetes can often be prevented while early diagnosis and access to appropriate care for all types of diabetes can avoid or delay complications in people living with the condition.”

People suffering from the disease should continue to take their medicine and insulin as per usual. They should also test their blood sugar and keep track of the results, and they should ensure they have at least a 30-day supply of medicines, including insulin at hand.