On 14 November 2015, we join the rest of the international community in commemorating World Diabetes Day under the theme: “Healthy living and diabetes”. The theme highlights the importance of healthy diets and adoption of healthy lifestyles to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes which is a complex disease that is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity.
Globally 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes and its frequency is increasing in low and middle-income countries. In the African Region, the rate of diabetes is growing and this represents a big challenge to governments, health services, communities and individuals.
Diabetes can lead to high rates of ill health, disability and premature deaths. It has severe health complications such as blindness, kidney failure, neuropathy, disability and premature death. It also has serious economic consequences which include loss of productivity and high health care costs. Since diabetes is a silent disease that often takes years to develop, screening, early detection and prompt treatment is essential.
The rise in diabetes in the Region is due to people becoming physically less active and eating smaller quantities of healthy foods including vegetables and fruits. There is a growing tendency for most people to eat more foods that are refined, rich in sugar, salt, fats and calories but poor in nutrients. This transition is contributing to the increasing burdens of not only type 2 diabetes but other noncommunicable diseases.
The risk of diabetes and its complications could be significantly reduced by maintaining a healthy body weight, engaging in sufficient amounts of physical activity, eating a well-balanced diet, and avoiding tobacco and harmful use of alcohol throughout the life course. The need for robust diabetes prevention and control policies to promote healthy diets and physical activity at home, schools, workplaces and other settings has never been greater. But public policies alone are not enough.
I call on governments in the African Region to strengthen advocacy and raise public awareness on the benefits of healthy eating. There is also an urgent need for Ministries of Health to allocate adequate funds for essential medicines and technologies to ensure that early detection, treatment and regular follow up of diabetes is available to all.
WHO will continue to work with governments, partners, research institutions and other relevant organisations to prevent and control diabetes in the African Region.