November 14, 2022

Diabetes: WHO begs African govts to prioritise investment in essential products

…Says 24m adults affected, 416,000 die in 2021; Nigerian diabetics lament high cost of drugs

By Chioma Obinna

As Nigeria today joins the rest of the world to mark this year’s World Diabetes Day, the World Health Organisation, WHO, has appealed to governments of member states to prioritise investment in essential products in the management of the disease such as insulin, glucometers and test strips to ensure equitable access for every diabetic, no matter where on the continent they are.

The WHO also disclosed that 24 million Africans are living with diabetes while a total of 416 million people lost their lives to the disease in 2021.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti who made the appeal in a statement to mark this year’s Day with the theme: “Access to diabetes care”, also urged African governments to adopt and customise the global targets for diabetes, as part of recommendations to strengthen and monitor diabetes responses within their national NCD programmes.

“To Africa’s people, I cannot overemphasise the importance of healthy and balanced diets, combined with regular exercise, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting alcohol consumption. This will go a long way to protecting individuals from Type 2 diabetes and other NCDs.

“Africa’s diabetes statistics illustrate the depth of the challenge; 24 million adults are currently living with diabetes, with that number predicted to swell by 129 percent to 55 million by 2045.

“Last year, diabetes mellitus took the lives of 416 000 people on the continent and is forecast to become one of the leading causes of death in Africa by 2030.

“Importantly, diabetes is the only major Non-Communicable Disease, NCD, for which the risk of dying early is increasing, rather than decreasing.

“Known risk factors include family history and increasing age, along with modifiable risk factors such as overweight and obesity, sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy diets, smoking, and alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, these modifiable risk factors are on the rise across all countries in the WHO African Region,” she lamented. 

Stating that WHO African Region was committed to the requisite training of health workers in the prevention and management of NCDs at the district and community level, to improve the availability of these services, she stated that response efforts are constrained by the fact that more than one in every two people in Africa living with Diabetes mellitus has never been diagnosed.

“Increased access to diagnostic tools and medicines, particularly insulin, is one of the most urgent areas of work.   Left unchecked, and without management and lifestyle changes, diabetes can lead to several debilitating complications. These include heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, lower limb amputation, visual impairment, blindness, and nerve damage. People with diabetes are also at higher risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms.”

She said to accelerate progress on diabetes and other NCDs, WHO developed the Global Diabetes Compact to reduce the negative impacts of the disease, and ensure that everyone living with diabetes has access to equitable, comprehensive, affordable, and quality treatment and care.

    During the 75th World Health Assembly in May, WHO Member States supported the creation of the first global targets for diabetes by 2030, as part of recommendations to strengthen and monitor diabetes responses within national NCD programmes.  “These include that 80 percent of people living with diabetes will be diagnosed, and have good control of their glycaemic levels and blood pressure; 60 per cent of those older than 40 will be receiving treatment with statins; and 100 per cent of people with Type 1 diabetes will have access to affordable insulin and blood glucose self-monitoring.” 

Moeti also recalled that at the 72nd WHO Regional Committee for Africa in August 2022, efforts to improve services to prevent and manage diabetes care, and achieve Universal Health Coverage, saw Ministers of Health from the continent adopt the PEN-Plus regional strategy to integrate outpatient care for severe and chronic NCDs at first-referral level health facilities.

She said: “As such, the strategy calls for the strengthening of capacity at these facilities to diagnose and manage Type 1 diabetes, and other severe NCDs. Its implementation will reduce the number of deaths, and improve the quality of life of Africa’s children living with Type 1 diabetes.”

Moeti explained that World Diabetes Day is marked on 14 November every year, to raise awareness of the growing burden of this disease, and strategies to prevent and manage the threat.

She added that the theme of this year was chosen to highlight the importance of prevention as well as response efforts and will also be sued in 2023.

 Nigerian diabetics lament high cost of drugs

Meanwhile, persons living with Diabetes in Nigeria have decried the high cost of diabetes treatment, saying that,  they spend between N25, 000 and N30,000 for drugs monthly in Nigeria depending on where the drugs were purchased.

Mr Sam Eferaro who spoke to Vanguard said in 2019, the cost of these drugs were far less than N10,000.

Eferaro said though although the reasons for the increase may not be restricted to diabetes drugs alone as the cost of drugs has gone up, generally but people living with diabetes feel the increase more because they have to be on the drugs for life.

“It is also the same for people with hypertension and other non communicable diseases.”

While calling of the need to subsidized treatment for diabetes and hypertension, he said healthcare has not fared well under the present Nigerian government.

“African countries like Cameroon or even Ghana have programmes for people living with diabetes, especially children. No such programme in Nigeria.

“Nigerian government has no programme or plans to reduce the cost of diabetes management. Rather, the cost of drugs and monitoring devices are rising every year because of tax and import duties that pharmaceutical companies must pay to bring them in.

“Same for cancer drugs which is why chemotherapy is so expensive and patients have to sell all they have to pay for treatment. The truth is the government is making money off sick people instead of introducing measures to prolong their lives.”