Covid-19 is more deadly in patients with diabetes in Africa

People queue to get vaccinated against covid-19 in Kajiado, Kenya.
People queue to get vaccinated against covid-19 in Kajiado, Kenya.
Image: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya
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Africa’s death rates from covid-19 are notably higher in patients with diabetes, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said, making diabetes a serious risk as the continent grapples with increase in diabetes cases and inadequate supply of covid-19 vaccines.

Global studies have found the disease to increase the risk of severe illness and death among covid-19 patients.

A recent analysis by the WHO found that diabetes patients who also had covid-19 had a 10.2% fatality rate, compared with 2.5% overall for covid-19 patients. The analysis evaluated data from 13 countries on underlying conditions or comorbidities in Africans who tested positive for covid-19.

“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, the WHO’s regional director for Africa.

Diabetes is brought about by high blood sugar

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when blood glucose or blood sugar is too high. It impairs the body’s ability to produce or process insulin, which is essential to counteracting the rise in blood sugar. The condition causes inflammation and poor blood circulation, which increase the risk of complications from covid-19.

Diabetes has been responsible for 416,000 deaths in Africa this year, according to the International Diabetes Federation. The WHO analysis found that the case fatality rate for people with diabetes was twice as high as the fatality rate among patients suffering any comorbidity.

An estimated 24 million people live with diabetes in Africa. This number is expected to double by 2045, with the continent recording the highest increase globally. This makes the disease a growing concern in the continent.

Similar to what it has done to other diseases, covid-19 has slowed down Africa’s fight against diabetes by disrupting access to healthcare through lockdowns and other movement restriction. It has also stretched the continent’s already strained medical resources, and diverted medical resources to focus on controlling the pandemic.

People with diabetes get priority in covid-19 vaccination

Globally, people with diabetes have been prioritized to receive covid-19 vaccinations, but Africa has experienced challenges in this strategy due to insufficient vaccine supply. The continent of more than a billion people has so far received 177 million vaccine doses and vaccinated only 6% of its population.

According to the WHO, data from 37 countries shows that only 14% of all doses administered in the continent so far have been administered to people with comorbidities since March 2021.

“We are still nowhere near where we need to be with protecting our most vulnerable,” Moeti said. “There is an urgent need to step up vaccination and other key services to people at high risk, including those with diabetes.”

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