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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs