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WHO: People With Diabetes in Africa Particularly Vulnerable to COVID

Ahead of World Diabetes Day Sunday, the Africa office of the World Health Organization is warning that the chronic disease leaves patients especially vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. In Zimbabwe, the government is building rural health centers to make it easier for people with diabetes and other conditions to get medical attention.

Dr. Benido Impouma, director of the communicable and noncommunicable diseases cluster at the WHO regional office for Africa, said with just 6% of the continent’s population fully vaccinated, COVID-19 still poses a very real threat to populations in Africa, especially people with diabetes.

He said WHO’s preliminary analysis shows that death rates from COVID-19 are significantly higher in patients who also have diabetes.

The U.N. health agency’s survey in 13 African countries found a more than 10% fatality rate for people with diabetes, compared to 2.5% for COVID-19 patients overall, said Impouma.

“This shows that fighting the diabetes epidemic in Africa is in many ways as critical as the battle against the current COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 will eventually subside, but Africa is projected, in the coming years, to experience the highest increase in diabetes globally. We must act now to prevent new cases. All Africans at risk of diabetes must have access to testing. In fact, in Africa, about 70% of people with diabetes are unaware that they have the chronic condition,” Impouma said.

The WHO says about 24 million Africans suffer from diabetes, with that number expected to rise sharply in coming years.

Impouma urged health officials to take advantage of the increased availability of low-cost rapid diagnostic tests to routinely test patients, to ensure early detection and proper care.

Joyce Kanengebiza, a diabetic, says she is happy about improvements to health centers in her rural home – Mount Darwin – about 200 kilometers north of Harare.

“We used to walk long distances to go get tested or get medication. I am happy that I do not have to travel long distances anymore. We now get tested here (at a clinic) instead of going to [a] hospital,” Kanengebiza said.

Zimbabwe’s Vice President Constantino Chiwenga – who doubles as the country’s health minister – told the state-owned broadcaster that such heath centers can also be key venues for COVID-19 vaccinations.

“We have distributed and we will continue distributing effectively our centers in all our districts so that we can now move to those areas get tested, get supplies and always get reviewed,” Chiwenga said.

WHO says its data revealed that in about 40 African countries nearly 14% of all COVID-19 vaccine doses administered so far have gone to Africans with underlying conditions – such as diabetes.

But the organization says it is still nowhere near where it wants Africa to be with protecting the continent’s most vulnerable populations.

Source: Voice of America