From as diverse spaces as sports stadia, music arenas to political fields, the numbers of people succumbing to chronic diseases that people are worried about: obesity, cancer, stroke, diabetes, blindness and kidney failure that have been rising in the last couple of seasons.
Oliver Mtukudzi, Kelly Rusike – two of the country’s top Afro and jazz icons – both died due to diabetes-related conditions. David Mandigora- 1980 soccer star of the year – had his leg amputated before he also succumbed to peripheral vascular disease in 2022. His brother Thomas followed barely a year later due to stroke.
While data is scarce on the exact numbers, medical experts agree there is growing concern as the numbers keep rising and claiming more and more people across all age groups and sexes.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, it is estimated that 10 in every 100 people have diabetes, and currently, diabetes statistics represent over 100 000 visits or consultations at outpatients departments per year.”
Diabetes, a chronic condition now affecting tens of thousands across the country and posing numerous health concerns is due to a combination of factors, according to health experts.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood.
In response to questions from The Afronews last week Tinotenda Dzikiti, ambassador for the Zimbabwe Diabetic Association (ZDA), a non-profit humanitarian organization representing the interest of the growing number of people with diabetes and those at risk and their health care givers in the country, says there are different types of diabetes and all of them are unique in their own nature.
“For instance, for type 1 diabetes being caused by deficient insulin production in the body, requiring external insulin supply, because, the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed by a process in the body known as “autoimmunity” (i.e. in which the body’s cells attack each other,” he explains.
Medical experts say women especially those in the reproductive age group, are at a higher risk of developing Type-2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a result of insufficient production of insulin or inability of the body to use insulin effectively.
Gestational diabetes which is a certain type of hyperglycemia, occurs in pregnant women with a high risk of complications during pregnancy and delivery while maturity-onset diabetes of the young, is associated with a definite family history of diabetes and often does not need any treatment at all besides diet.
Dr Amos Marume, principal at Harare Institute of Public Health (HIPH), expouses the importance of awareness campaigns on NCDs. With all these conditions, while apparently separate at the point of diagnosis, metabolic dysfunction and inability to process and manage energy efficiently is one of the root cause drivers.
“Unhealthy diets excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking, sedentary lifestyles and, in some cases, genetics all are contributing factors,” he says.
Individual diagnosed with diabetes have to concern themselves about a variety of issues like blood levels and diet among a complex medication regimen, he warns.
“People should be encouraged to be tested regularly for NCDs,” he told this publication at his city centre campus, adding most cases of NCDs have to do with lifestyles.
“If people are not tested, they can’t know their condition – and they can’t manage their diabetes.”
“We don’t have an efficient surveillance system that is intelligent for early warning – and we end up fighting when it is too late,” he emphasises.
Marume explains that most people are getting into middle-class and taking most of the fast foods that go along with that table in life, “but no longer do the physical activity”.
Getting fat and wearing one’s weight as an emblem of one’s success but without exercise . . . such kind of consumption will catch up with you,” he cautions Marume. Food for thought.
Richard Mutingwende, a registered homeopathic practitioner in the capital, stresses that causes of diabetes or similar conditions like hypertension not only differ according to individuals but lifestyles as well.
“They differ from person to person,” he says, explaining: “What causing your diabetic condition is different from what’s causing mine . . . meaning the treatment and management plan has to be different and individualized.”
But the numbers of people receiving the appropriate information or education on how to manage the condition is low, he says.
The need for education underpins these conditions: diabetes, stroke, dementia, obesity, heart disease, cancers, and fatty liver.
Hence one his biggest frustrations is people practice re-active rather than preventive medicine and, he reiterates, “people need to be taking responsibility of their own health . . . it’s up to them to follow advice”.
“Information regarding awareness is not readily available,” he says, explaining that many people still believe that when diagnosed with diabetes or hypertension, the best is to be put on medication.
“Medicines are just there to suppress the symptoms and not cure the root cause . . . hence many people gradually develop complications and later succumb,” he adds.
Mutingwende adds that without enough relevant information, it is very challenging for people to understand what happens if they don’t take appropriate steps and hence the emphasis on prevention across all sector of society.
“Bread winners are dying because of these conditions and more funds should be injected on prevention – it’s cheaper than hospital bills!” stresses Mutingwende.
While there are life-long challenges, there is a sliver of positivity in managing diabetes, says Freddie Sithole, who has been a diabetic for the last 15 years.
If properly managed, with recommended lifestyle watch and medication if prescribed, one can lead a stress-free and normal life,” he says.
The World health Organisation (WHO) has classified diabetes one of the fastest-growing global emergencies of the 21st century. The numbers of adolescents and youth now living with diabetes demands more attention. An estimated 24 million adults (20-79 years) were living with diabetes in the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Africa Region – INCLUDING Zimbabwe – in 2021, giving a regional prevalence of 4,5percent.
Fifty-four percent of people living with diabetes in the Africa Region are undiagnosed – the highest proportion of all IDF Regions – and the graph is going nowhere but up north.
The health ecosystem needs to devise better and more effective tools to detect, diagnose and manage diabetes, which, right now, it is not, despite all the pronouncements.
Dzikiti, who is also Africa Representative-elect at the IDF, says assessing system readiness, capacity and needs and integrating service delivery at district levels are key to strengthening capacity to provide palliative capacity.
“We have to ensure availability of essential medicines and basic equipment for the management of chronic and severe NCDs at district hospitals,” he underlines.
“Diabetes care can also be integrated with other NCDs programmes for holistic health care delivery.”