News / Africa

Diabetes Explodes in Sub-Saharan Africa

Testing blood sugar at home with a blood glucose meter.Testing blood sugar at home with a blood glucose meter.
x
Testing blood sugar at home with a blood glucose meter.
Testing blood sugar at home with a blood glucose meter.

Multimedia

Audio
Kim Lewis
Diabetes, a life-long disease that increases sugar levels in the blood, affects over 366 million people worldwide. The NGO Project Hope, based in the U.S. state of Virginia, said in sub-Saharan Africa that diabetes, once a rarity for Africans, is now affecting over 12 million people. The organization said there is an urgent need to expand education about the disease in developing countries, and they recently opened a center in Johannesburg in partnership with the pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, that addresses the needs of patients at risk of developing diabetes, and those living with it. 

Paul Madden, Project Hope’s senior advisor for non-communicable diseases, explained that diabetes is rapidly spreading throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and even other developing countries around the world, largely due to lifestyle changes.   People generally are not as active as previous generations, and they are in jobs that require them to sit or stand for long periods of time.  Another reason for the increase in the rate of diabetes is eating processed food.

“The way things are packaged, they’re often in bigger portion sizes than the body needs.  So it’s the portion sizes, lack of activity.  In some of the villages and towns and cities in Africa, it’s people are living longer, and as you live longer and get less active, and also taking in a few too many calories on some days, and if you do that over many years, you gain weight,” explained Madden.  

In countries where there are food crises, Madden said you have a moral dilemma of having to feed people.  Much of the foods donated from the international community are calorie-dense foods, and while making sure that hungry people are fed is vital, it is also important to educate people about food and nutrition, so they can properly take care of themselves. 

Madden described Project Hope’s way of tackling this challenge.

“We see our peer group every day.  We see family members every day, so we actually are going in and training community health workers," he said.  "I think of our Hope Clinic in South Africa, just outside of Johannesburg, and in that program, yes, we have well-trained professionals who run the clinic.  But we also are training not just the person who comes in with obesity, with diabetes, but we’re training family members too. And we invite them also to bring an important friend in to join us for the education.”            

Madden said Project Hope plans to stay in the community for several years or more, so that the education process will be successful, “but at some point, we want the local leaders, the local medical teams, the local educators, role models, village leaders, to run those programs.  And as you know . . . throughout Africa and the world there are so many groups that need some assistance right now.”   

Madden said Type 2 diabetes is the form of the disease that is exploding in Africa right now.

“And Type 2 diabetes is the type that tends to develop when the waist line gets bigger.  We get less active, too many calories on the plate or in the bottle, however we do it, drink it or eat it.  So it’s that Type 2 diabetes that we often see developing a little later in life.  And in a frightening way too, I’ve been in the business for 38 years now as a diabetes specialist. If you and I were talking 38 years ago, I would tell you that type 2 diabetes from too big a waist line, too many calories, too little activity, was virtually non-existent in Africa and the world,” he explained.

There are other factors that must also be considered when looking at causes of diabetes.  For example, in some countries that are experiencing fighting and instability, parents are keeping their children indoors to keep them out of harm’s way.

“So sometimes it’s even a safety issue that these families are saying, we don’t want you going out.  Well, it’s real hard to get more adequate physical activity when you live in a beautiful one room house that you share with four other people.  So it gets very difficult to promote the activity sometimes,” said Madden.

Madden went on to say that diabetes is showing up in low numbers in children in Africa, but is exploding among the age group of 20- to 60-year-olds.  He said this age group is where they are seeing the largest proportions of deaths occurring.

“Type 2 diabetes typically develops over several months to several years.  And people often don’t know they have it.  It’s not uncommon in some of the villages of Africa for people to not even know they have diabetes. And in the big cities of Johannesburg, you look at different statistics on Africa, and it says depending on what city or town or village you are in, we could have people living with diabetes, and 40 to 70 to 80 percent of them may not know they have it,” he explained.

Madden highlighted an experience of an African girl with diabetes who said she wished she had AIDS instead.  When asked why, she said because there were so many deaths from diabetes, and her country provides drugs for AIDS, but none for diabetes.  Madden said Project Hope is working to change this perspective.  They are partnering with many groups and pharmaceutical companies to educate people and provide them with much-needed medicine to fight diabetes.

You May Like

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Nigerians Await New President With High Hopes

When pomp and circumstance of inauguration end in Abuja, Buhari will sit down to the hard task of governing Nigeria More

India's Restrictions on Several NGOs Raise Concerns

Political analysts link recent clampdown on advocacy groups to report last year that said foreign-funded NGO’s negatively impact economic development More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs