The rising health burden of undiagnosed diabetes

Monday, November 18th, 2019 05:25 |

 By Virginia Wambui and Sandra Wekesa

Undiagnosed diabetes is common in Kenya, and often usually leads to serious health complications. Untreated type 2 diabetes can go unnoticed for a long time considering that mild to moderate blood sugar levels often don’t have any symptoms. 

In the report released by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) on World Diabetes Day on Nov 14, 38 million more adults are living with diabetes, compared to 2017 and global prevalence has reached 9.3 per cent, with more than half of adults undiagnosed. 

In Kenya, undiagnosed cases make up 44 per cent of diabetes cases as at 2019. This, according to experts, translates to increased burden on health, which means more expenses passed on to the public.

The IDF shows that the country spent Sh18.3m on the condition in 2019, a drop from Sh2.3m in 2010, with predictions that this expenditure will increase to Sh27.3m and Sh42.5m in 2030 and 2045 respectively.

“Diabetes treatment costs burden the healthcare system, hence are absorbed by the society. 

“There are also the hidden indirect costs that result from productivity losses due to patients’ disability, premature mortality and time spent by family taking patients for treatment,” says Dr Eva Njenga a leading consultant endocrinologist.

It is estimated that globally, diabetic patients require up to triple the healthcare resources compared to non-diabetics. Besides fatality, diabetes comes with complications including cardiovascular diseases, blindness, kidney failure, and lower limb amputation.

Fortunately, it is preventable and manageble, with lifestyle changes. When Reuben Magoko, chairman of Kenya Defeat Diabetes Association (KDDA) was diagnosed with the conditions in1988, he thought it was a death sentence. 

“I had heard gloomy stories of people who were diagnosed with diabetes type two. Ultimately, I knew it was just a matter of time before the disease killed me,” he says. 

He did his research and found out that diabetes, like many non-communicable diseases, was preventable through a change of lifestyle. “I began making frequent visits to the Ministry of Health to find out what could be done to reduce incidents of diabetes and reduce patients’ suffering,” he says. 

Simple lifestyle adjustments have been found to be effective in reducing complications related to diabetes.

“The approach entails taking healthy diet, staying physically active through exercises, managing stress and strictly adhering to treatment. I regularly skip rope with my grandchildren to keep fit,” he adds.

As one of the NCDs, diabetes is included in the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as the country continues to make strides towards promoting a healthy nation. 

Although UHC is still at a pilot stage in the country, Ministry of Health, deputy director medical services Ephantus Maree says, NCD’s are well integrated into the programme under the primary health care which caters for all the basic health services.

 “You cannot address diabetes under UHC without advising people to live a healthy lifestyle and work out. These are the important things to look at,” he said.

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