ON Wednesday 14 November 2017, Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world to commemorate the World Diabetes Day. The campaign is one platform to create understanding about how the disease affects people as well as putting to the fore importance of taking remedial actions to combat the disease. In Zimbabwe an estimated 1,5 million people are diabetic, with some unaware of the condition.
This year’s commemorations were held under the theme: Women and diabetes — our right to a healthy future. The theme sought to promote importance of affordable and equitable access by all women at risk to essential medicines, technologies, self-management education and information they require to achieve optimal diabetes outcomes and strengthen their capacity to prevent diabetes type two. All women with diabetes should have access to pre-conception planning services to reduce risk during pregnancy as well as access to physical activity to improve their health outcomes.
Zimbabwe should ensure that pregnant women have improved access to screening, care and education to achieve positive health outcomes for mother and child. Our health system should pay adequate attention to specific needs and priorities of women and those at risk or living with diabetes.
Some 95 percent of the diabetes in Zimbabwe is type two, which is mainly caused by poor diet like consumption of too much starch, which is converted to fat, leading to obesity, hyperlipidaemia, hypertension and diabetes mellitus. This is compounded by lack of exercising so rampant in urban areas. Health providers should ensure that those with diabetes have ready access to essential diabetes medicines and technologies, self-management education and information they need to achieve optimal diabetes outcomes.
Treatments like medical insulin need to be made available and screening and detection must be improved. Activism around diabetes must be scaled up. Diabetes drugs are too expensive. Therefore, Government and development partners must subsidise diabetes drugs or give them for free like antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs, since the disease has surpassed HIV and Aids and is among the top killer diseases in the country.
A diabetic patient on drugs needs about $30 per month, minus the cost of sugar level tests. Self-test kits to measure one’s sugar levels are currently priced beyond the reach of many. Our health system should focus on tackling these challenges confronting those with diabetes. Zimbabwe should make massive investment in its health systems to provide good quality care for diabetes — or many other illnesses.
Diabetes must be seen as a priority. All gaps in care, including a lack of equipment for diagnosing and monitoring diabetes, lack of treatment, and lack of adequate knowledge about the disease among some health care providers must be plugged. This can lead to reduction in long-term consequences of diabetes like heart attacks, strokes, blindness, and kidney failure which require very expensive specialists and specialist equipment to treat.
Only improvements at all levels of diabetes care lead to reduction of risk factors associated with the disease. Interventions like community-based care for high blood pressure, patient education, home glucose monitoring, and more education about diabetes for health care professionals also needs scaling up. Response should be from many different levels – Government, private sector, health care planners, health care providers, society and individuals.
Prevention is critical to improving health and avoiding further economic burden. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been calling on governments to allocate adequate funding for diabetes and encourage citizens to adopt healthy living lifestyles to curb prevalence of non communicable diseases, as the burden of diabetes is becoming bigger in Zimbabwe.
The need for robust diabetes prevention and control policies to promote healthy diets and physical activity at home, schools, workplaces and other settings has never been greater. The sad reality is that there is a growing tendency in Zimbabwe and Africa in general for people to eat more foods that are refined, rich in sugar, salty, fatty and have more calories but poor in nutrients. This is suicidal.
We believe managing diabetes and its risk factors is simple and cheap than treating complications that develop in the later stages of the disease.