14/11/2017 14:05 SAST | Updated 14/11/2017 16:21 SAST

Diabetes: We Are Facing A Tsunami Of A Disease That's Largely Preventable

"I have a long waiting list of patients -- 90 percent is diabetes-related," says a local doctor.

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A patient testing for diabetes.

South Africa is facing a tsunami of diabetes. This is the view of KwaZulu-Natal-based doctor, Aslam Amod.

"I have a long waiting list of patients to see me -- 90 percent is diabetes-related," said Amod. Daily, at least 30 diabetic patients come through his doors, he said.

According to the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF), seven percent of South Africans aged between 21 and 79 were living with the chronic disease two years ago. This is about a 100 percent increase from 2010 -- when only about four percent of South Africans were living with type 2 diabetes.

The IDF points out, however, that the numbers do not include those who are not aware that they are living with the disease -- that is associated with high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood.

The total number of people living with diabetes in Africa is expected to increase by 20-million in 2040, with women bearing the large burden of the disease -- and experts say this is a pandemic.

People with type 2 diabetes have a two to three times greater risk of heart failure and are at an increased risk of a heart attack or a stroke.

Also, diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure and even lower-limb amputation.

These are some signs and symptoms of diabetes:

  • unusual thirst
  • frequent urination
  • unusual weight loss
  • extreme fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • frequent or recurring infections
  • cuts and bruises that are slow to heal


Amod firmly believes the only successful diabetes treatment is prevention. "Everything else is just dealing with the fall-out," he emphasised.

"There is enough evidence to say obesity is the starting point to 80 percent of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Obesity sits at the centre and hypertension, dyslipidaemia, heart disease and other linked chronic conditions radiate out from this pivotal point," he explained.

READ: Stop Normalising Obesity In South Africa

The main challenges in fighting diabetes are poor eating habits, lack of exercise and other poor lifestyle factors such as stress and lack of sleep.

"With current research showing the impact of stress, job strain, sleep abnormalities and food security on increased risk of diabetes, there's now an even stronger need for education to better manage the pandemic," said endocrinologist Sundeep Ruder. He was speaking at a Connecting Experts in Diabetes Forum in Cape Town recently.

Simpler lifestyle changes can include taking part in at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, eating a healthy diet, avoiding sugar and saturated fats, decreasing alcohol intake and not smoking.

However, treatment depends on each person as others may need oral medications or insulin.

READ: How To Read Food Labels, Made Easier

Early diagnosis of diabetes is important and this can be achieved by a simple blood sugar test at a local health care facility or a commitment to a regular screening.

"Caught early enough, we can put an obese person's diabetes into remission, where diabetic markers normalise -- by getting them to lose weight, whether through bariatric metabolic surgery or other forms of weight loss that decrease food intake," said Amod.