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By: Antoinette Stafford Cloete, Health Systems Trust Communications Manager
World Diabetes Day is the primary global awareness campaign focusing on diabetes and is held on 14 November each year, the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting a co-discoverer of insulin, medication critical in the treatment of the disease.
It was launched in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in response to the rapid rise of diabetes globally. Led by the IDF, each World Diabetes Day focuses on a theme related to the disease. The theme for 2021-2023 is "Access to Diabetes Care" – a hundred years after the discovery of insulin, millions of people with diabetes around the world still cannot access the care they need.
#WorldDiabetesDay is currently commemorated by over 230 International Diabetes Federation member associations in more than 160 countries and territories which includes South Africa. Diabetes South Africa is one such entity; a not-for-profit organisation that supports and advocates for people with diabetes in South Africa.
So, what is diabetes?
In simple terms it is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. Food gets broken down into sugar (also known as glucose) and is released into your bloodstream causing blood sugar levels to go up and, in turn, signalling your pancreas to release insulin. Your body needs to maintain a very fine balance between the amount of energy (glucose) it ingests, releases and stores. With diabetes your body either does not make enough insulin or cannot use it as well as it should. When your cells stop responding to insulin you are effectively insulin resistant. Ultimately, you may become prone to serious health problems such as kidney disease and vision loss and may even lose limbs through amputation if your diabetes has reached an advanced stage.
How many types of diabetes are there?
There are three types of diabetes:
Type 1: is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake) that stops your body from making insulin. Approximately 5-10% of the people who have diabetes have type 1. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes often develop quickly. It's usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults. If you have type 1 diabetes, you'll need to take insulin every day to survive. Currently, no one knows how to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Type 2: with this type of diabetes, your body doesn't use insulin well and can't keep blood sugar at normal levels. About 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2. It develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults (but more and more in children, teens, and young adults). You may not notice any symptoms, so it's important to get your blood sugar tested if you're at risk. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active.
Gestational Diabetes: develops in pregnant women who have never had diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes, your baby could be at higher risk for health problems. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after your baby is born but increases your risk for type 2 diabetes later in life. Your baby is more likely to have obesity as a child or teen, and more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life too.
You can also be prediabetic: it is estimated that 1 in 3 people might be prediabetic with most people not knowing that they are. With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes raises your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Prediabetes is potentially reversible with the correct lifestyle adjustments.
Although there isn't a cure for diabetes a healthy diet, weight loss and being active can help. Also, taking your prescribed medication in the prescribed manner will help as will getting diabetes management support.
Within South Africa diabetes is a leading cause of death and of huge concern. Non-communicable diseases (NCD's) like diabetes are on the rise globally and in 2016 diabetes and other NCD's caused 16% of the total deaths in the country. This figure could be decreased with more awareness on the disease as well as access to proper healthcare. The Health Systems Trust has been running an awareness campaign called Get checked. Go collect for the past three years and it seeks to share information on chronic health conditions and how to access treatment.
According to the Borgen Project more than 1 million people in the country do not know they have diabetes and have not been diagnosed and treated for the disease. They argue that diabetes can be prevented and treated by educating citizens to make informed decisions regarding their health.
"In July 2019, South Africa briefly launched a Diabetes Prevention Programme (DPP). The DPP aims to integrate intervention treatments into a culturally relevant context through household questionnaires and group gatherings for at-risk individuals. In the conclusion of this program, the DPP will focus on using the information they gathered to create a curriculum that can educate communities about diabetes."
While we wait for the outcome of this study you can contact Diabetes South Africa in the meantime for more information on the disease:
HEALTH SYSTEMS TRUST - CONTACT DETAILS
1 Maryvale Road, Westville, Durban, 3630
+27(0)31 266 9090