“Could you explain the diabetes situation in South Africa?” is a question we get asked all the time.
Remember: Sweet Life is not made up of researchers, or academics, or medical professionals. But we are South Africa’s largest online diabetes community, and we do a lot of diabetes education research, and we co-founded the Diabetes Alliance. So we have a good handle on the diabetes situation in South Africa.
Diabetes in South Africa
Let’s start with the stats. You can take a look at the prediabetes stats here, but essentially 1 in 2 people with Type 2 diabetes in South Africa is undiagnosed. This means that half the people walking around with Type 2 diabetes don’t know they have it.
In addition, 2 in 3 people have prediabetes (which means they’re at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes). Think about that for a moment: if you’re in a queue with a person in front of you and a person behind you, two of you are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes if you don’t make lifestyle changes. Here are the risk factors of Type 2 diabetes, if you’re curious: in a fun 1 minute video. And here’s how to reverse Type 2 diabetes, so you know what lifestyle changes you might need to make.
Most terrifying of all, though, is the fact that (according to Stats SA), diabetes is the number one killer of women in South Africa.
Understanding the diabetes situation in South Africa
Why is diabetes killing so many people – women, in particular?
Well, let’s go back to that undiagnosed number. Type 2 diabetes is a manageable condition – here’s how to manage it. It’s even a reversible condition, if you catch it early enough. But if you don’t know you have it, your blood sugar will obviously be higher than normal, because you’re not doing anything to control it. So you’ll be developing long-term complications, without knowing about it. By the time you end up in hospital with those complications, it’s too late.
Uncontrolled Type 2 diabetes leads to amputation, blindness, kidney failure and heart disease – these are all avoidable if you are diagnosed early enough and look after yourself. But you can’t look after yourself if you don’t know you have diabetes.
A diabetes screening is a simple fingerstick blood test. You can get it at your local clinic or pharmacy, it takes less than 5 minutes and you’ll know your results immediately. Knowledge is power!
COVID-19 and the diabetes situation in South Africa
Of course, this is all made more urgent by the presence of COVID-19. Here’s what we know about COVID-19 and diabetes, but one of the things everyone agrees on is that diabetes is a major risk factor for the serious version of COVID. Particularly Type 2 diabetes that is uncontrolled.
If half of all people with Type 2 diabetes are undiagnosed, though, that means that at least half are walking around with uncontrolled diabetes. So we need to make diabetes screening a normal part of our lives – just like an annual HIV test is a normal part of our lives.
Let’s flatten the diabetes curve!
We can see this information as depressing, or we can see it as an opportunity. At the moment, there is a Type 2 diabetes tsunami heading for South Africa: it’s the next epidemic. But we can flatten the curve by catching people when they have the risk factors of Type 2 diabetes – rather than when they have complications.
Imagine that we were able to alert people to the possibility of diabetes before they develop it. And then offer them the tools to reverse or manage their condition, so that they can live normal, healthy, happy lives with diabetes. That’s the goal: that’s what Sweet Life is all about.
What to read next?
Type 2 diabetes risk factors: Spend 1 minute watching this video and you’ll know if you’re at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
What is normal blood sugar? Here are the numbers to aim for if you have diabetes – and what normal blood sugar looks like.
The latest prediabetes stats in South Africa: Here’s what we know about prediabetes in South Africa.