DR CONGO – Death rates from COVID-19 infections are much higher in patients with diabetes in Africa, where the number of people with diabetes is growing rapidly, the World Health Organization has said in advance of the World Diabetes Day on 14 November.
The case fatality rate for people with diabetes was also twice as high as the fatality rate among patients suffering any comorbidity. In addition to people with diabetes, the three most frequent underlying conditions included patients with HIV and hypertension.
“COVID-19 is delivering a clear message: fighting the diabetes epidemic in Africa is in many ways as critical as the battle against the current pandemic,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, in a statement.
Diabetes impairs the body’s ability to produce or process insulin, a substance essential to counteracting a dangerous rise in blood sugar. The disease causes inflammation and poor blood circulation, both of which increase the risk of complications, including death, from COVID-19.
An estimated 24 million people are living with diabetes in Africa in 2021 according to the International Diabetes Federation and the continent is expected to experience the highest increase in diabetes globally.
On the other hand, an estimated 70% of people with diabetes on the continent are unaware they have the disease, according to the WHO.
“Health officials in Africa should take advantage of the growing availability of low-cost rapid diagnostic tests to routinely test patients in diabetes centres to ensure early detection and proper care,” said Dr Benido Impouma, Director, Communicable and Noncommunicable Diseases Cluster at WHO Regional Office for Africa.
The data from Africa on the increased vulnerability of people with diabetes to death from COVID-19 reflects a global trend, where a previous investigation reported that the pandemic has revealed that the United States has been losing its public health battle against diabetes for more than a decade.
Access to vaccines remains poor. Thus far, only 6.6% of the African population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared with about 40% globally. Data from 37 countries indicates that since March 2021, over 6.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have gone to Africans with comorbidities, representing 14% of all doses administered so far.