Diabetes is a fast-growing problem in South Africa, with many people going undiagnosed and poorly treated for this increasingly common metabolic disorder. One of South Africa’s foremost physicians is reaching out to those who may not be aware that they are diabetic and those at risk of developing the condition in no-fee clinics.
“Poorly controlled diabetes can cause lasting harm to the body, and this is why it is so important that we not only reach undiagnosed diabetics but also improve patients’ knowledge about their disease,” says specialist physician, Dr Adri Kok, who practises at Netcare Union and Netcare Clinton hospitals.
Dr Kok has been donating her time and expertise by holding a free “diabetes day” within the community where the team provides blood glucose and lipid screening, as well as blood pressure testing and advice on preventing or managing diabetes. The annual meetings have attracted more than 150 patients and their families each time with the next taking place on 18th November 2017 from 09h00 to 11h30 at the Greek Hall, 11 Penzance Street, New Redruth in Alberton. To date more than 15 of these “diabetes days” have been held.
“People who are unaware that they have diabetes and are therefore not on appropriate treatment are at risk of developing a number of potentially severe complications. Many family members of people living with diabetes are totally unaware of their inherited risk, for example.”
According to Dr Kok the main types of diabetes may have similar symptoms, although their physiology and management are quite different.
“Symptoms of both types of diabetes include fatigue, persistent thirst, slow-healing wounds, weight loss, blurred vision, a frequent need to urinate, and thrush, although individuals do not necessarily experience all of these.
Both forms of the disease can over time cause serious complications if left untreated or with persistent poor treatment, including damage to blood vessels and vital organs such as the kidneys and the cardiovascular system. Both forms of diabetes if uncontrolled pose a risk for diabetic foot ulcers, blindness, coronary heart disease, strokes, and in some instances can result in a diabetic coma,” she explains.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, at least 2.2 million South Africans are living with diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a health condition where a person’s body does not produce adequate amounts of insulin or cannot use insulin effectively due to insulin resistance. Insulin, which is produced by the pancreas, is a hormone that converts sugars from food into energy needed to conduct our daily activities.
“There is growing awareness about increasing obesity rates worldwide, and Statistics South Africa’s Demographic and Health Survey 2016 found that more than two-thirds of women and nearly a third of South African men are classified as being overweight or obese,” she observes.
“This is especially concerning, as there is a significant correlation between being overweight and the development of type 2 diabetes, particularly where the individual has a genetic predisposition to the condition.
“This being said, it is not only people who are overweight who should be vigilant about diabetes, and it is advisable for anyone over the age of 45 to have their blood sugar levels tested annually.”
While type 2 diabetes is most prevalent in adulthood, Dr Kok says increasing numbers of younger people are being diagnosed with it, largely due to leading unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles. The 2012 South African Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (SANHANES) indicated an increase in obesity prevalence from 10.6% to 18.1% among children two to five years old.
“Convenience foods high in fat and sugar, soft drinks together with the youth’s preference for ‘screen time’ over active pastimes, mean many more children and teenagers are becoming obese today than in decades gone by,” she adds.
“Through introducing healthy changes in your lifestyle, you can dramatically reduce your and your children’s risk of developing diabetes. Those who are diabetic can also better manage their condition through incorporating regular exercise and dietary principles alongside their individual treatment, and closely monitoring their blood sugar levels,” Dr Kok concluded.
References and further reading
- Statistics South Africa Demographic and Health Survey 2016 –
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Union and Netcare Clinton hospitals
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