Message of WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti

On 14 November, the international community marks World Diabetes Day. World Diabetes Day is held to raise awareness of the growing burden of this disease, and to highlight ways in which the disease can be prevented and managed. The theme remains “Access to diabetes care”. The focus this year is on preventing diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes, which is linked to known risk factors, some of which can be minimised by our communities if they are armed with the correct information. The most important risk factors are being overweight, a lack of regular exercise, and a diet high in sugars, salt and fats, particularly in people with a family history of the disease.

Globally, diabetes ranks among the top 10 causes of death. In the African region, 24 million adults are living with diabetes, and these numbers are projected to increase to 55 million people by 2045. Diabetes was responsible for 416,000 deaths in Africa in 2021 and is predicted to be one of the leading causes of the death in region by 2030.

Diabetes affects every part of the body, and if not correctly managed, people living with the disease can develop debilitating and life-threatening complications. This leads to an increased need for medical care, reduced quality of life, and premature death. This places a huge burden on affected individuals and their families.

Many people living with diabetes in Africa have either never been diagnosed or are not able to access the medicines and technologies that could improve their condition. In fact, 54% of people living with diabetes are still undiagnosed in Africa. This speaks to the need for greater awareness of the disease and the capacity to recognize and diagnose diabetes at a
level of care that is easily accessible to all in our communities. Once diagnosed, people living with diabetes need to have regular care to monitor the effects of diet and medication, and to detect complications early.

WHO technical packages and tools such as WHO package of essential noncommunicable (PEN) disease interventions for primary health care (WHOPEN), the PEN-PLUS Regional strategy for integrated outpatient care for severe chronic NCDS at first referral hospitals, the technical package for cardiovascular disease management in primary health care including
diabetes (HEART-D) are available and provide excellent guidance to members states on diabetes secondary prevention and management.

Diabetes must be taken seriously not only by individuals living with, or at high risk of the condition but also by healthcare professionals and decision-makers. Prevention by adopting 2 a healthy lifestyle, combined with good nutrition rich in fruits and vegetables, being physically active, not using any tobacco products and alcohol, can massively reduce the risk
of developing type 2 diabetes.

Even though the emergency phase of the Covid-19 pandemic is over, the virus is still a threat to people living with diabetes. I urge everyone living with diabetes to adopt a healthy lifestyle and protect themselves by getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

Today, I ask governments to invest in preventing diabetes and making essential oral anti-diabetes medicines, insulin, glucometers, and test strips available to all communities. This should be backed by training health workers in diabetes prevention and management at the district and community level towards improving service availability.

I also ask governments to adopt and customize global targets for diabetes, as part of efforts to strengthen and monitor diabetes responses within national noncommunicable disease (NCD) programmes. I urge national authorities to strengthen surveillance systems to monitor the trends of diabetes and other NCDs at population level to be able to better plan
for and manage diabetes.