Diabetes in South Africa: A Rising Concern and the Call for Action

Diabetes in South Africa: A Rising Concern and the Call for Action

Diabetes, a condition characterised by elevated blood sugar levels due to the pancreas’ inability to produce or effectively use insulin, poses severe health threats globally. While both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes come with grave side effects, the impact of this disease is especially stark in countries like South Africa. Here’s a detailed look at the diabetes scenario in South Africa:

The Stark Reality of Diabetes as a Leading Cause of Death:

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes, accounted for 16% of total deaths in South Africa in 2016.1 With a diabetes prevalence of 12.8% among adults2, it’s imperative for nations worldwide to bolster their support for diabetes research and funding in South Africa.

The Life-Threatening Implications for Diabetics:

People with diabetes are at an increased risk of dire complications. They are twice as likely to suffer from cardiovascular issues, such as heart attacks and strokes3. Furthermore, the condition can lead to kidney failure, and sadly, many healthcare facilities in South Africa are ill-equipped to offer treatments like dialysis or transplants. Neuropathy in feet, another consequence of diabetes, can result in infections or amputations, with limited testing equipment available in local health centres.

The Socioeconomic Challenge and the Need for Awareness:

Socioeconomic disparities play a significant role in the prevalence of diabetes. With a dearth of experienced health professionals and adequate clinics, many in poorer communities remain uninformed about their diabetic status. In fact, over a million South Africans are unaware of their diabetic condition4. Increased funding for diagnostic centres and medical training can help bridge this gap.

Prevention and Treatment Initiatives in Progress:

Promisingly, measures are being undertaken to counter diabetes in South Africa. The government’s introduction of a sugar tax is a testament to its commitment to combatting obesity and promoting healthier lifestyles5. Additionally, the launch of the Diabetes Prevention Programme (DPP) in 2019 aimed to gather valuable data to inform community-specific diabetes education strategies.

International Collaboration and Support:

Several international entities, including the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), have been collaborating with local organisations like Diabetes South Africa (DSA), Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa (SEMDSA), and Youth with Diabetes (YWD) to amplify the fight against diabetes through advocacy, research, and training.

To conclude, the pressing nature of the diabetes epidemic in South Africa cannot be stressed enough. International collaboration, increased funding, and targeted research are vital to navigating this health crisis effectively.


1. World Health Organisation. Diabetes [online] 5 April 2023, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/diabetes Accessed 4 September 2023

2. International Diabetes Federation. (2017). IDF Diabetes Atlas, 8th edn. Brussels, Belgium: International Diabetes Federation. Accessed 4 September 2023

3. Heart Foundation. Diabetes and heart disease [online], https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/bundles/your-heart/diabetes-and-heart-disease, Accessed 4 September 2023

4. BMC Public Health. Socioeconomic inequalities in diabetes prevalence: the case of South Africa between 2003 and 2016 [online] 14 February 2023, https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-023-15186-w, Accessed 4 September 2023

5. World Health Organisation. Taxes on Sugar drinks (2017), https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/260253/WHO-NMH-PND-16.5Rev.1-eng.pdf, Accessed 4 September 2023

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