Disease numbers on the rise as World Diabetes Day is marked

Diabetes, a major non-communicable disease (NCD), is slowly taking its toll on Rwandans, with 3 per cent of the population recorded to be suffering from diabetes.

Of the three types of the diabetes mellitus category – type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes, which affects pregnant women – type 2 is the most prevalent in the country.

Dr Marie Aimee Muhimpundu, the NCD division manager at the Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), said only 0.4 per cent of diabetes patients seek treatment at health facilities.

“We may see an increase, mainly a result of awareness activities, but that that does not mean our prevalence rate is increasing,” said Dr Muhimpundu. “These are just numbers that we get from population-based surveys.

“Our target is to avoid an increase in diabetes prevalence. We educate the population about prevention, including lifestyle and regular check-ups, so that they can even identify the pre-diabetes phase so that it can be reversible.”

Limited awareness

She cited limited awareness by the population on the risk factors and difficulty in getting care in the lower levels of society as the biggest challenges to the fight against diabetes.

“We intend to educate the population, establish an annual check-up for early detection, build the capacity at all levels and conduct research to understand the burden of disease,” said Dr Muhimpundu.

Statistics by RBC show an 80 per cent increase in NCDs, which means for every 100 people eight have either diabetes or high blood pressure.

Gerald Ruzindana, a nutrition and complimentary therapist at Amazon Nutrition and Complimentary Therapy, points out that such a disease is caused by an imbalance in diet.

“I would strictly aise people to start valuing nutrition and regularly going for check-ups because the symptoms can be easily confused with other basic ailments,” said Mr Ruzindana.

“Check-ups help one to understand their genetic predisposition and nutritional effort reduces the spread of these diseases.

He pointed out that a nutritional assessment and management and a follow-up are needed to reduce the severity of such diseases.

“These steps help in the balanced diet, so that you don’t end up consuming toxins if you overuse one food group,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists diabetes as the fourth-deadliest NCDs, causing the deaths of 1.3 million people every year.

According to WHO, cardiovascular diseases are the world’s deadliest ailments, accounting for most deaths at 7.3 million people annually, followed by cancers (7.6 million) and respiratory diseases (4.2 million).

WHO projects that diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death in 2030.

Last year, the global prevalence of diabetes was estimated at 9 per cent among adults, while in 2012 an estimated 1.5 million deaths were directly caused by the disease. More than 80 per cent of diabetes deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

A healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Increases risk of heart disease, stroke

Diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. In a multinational study, half of the diabetic people die of cardiovascular disease (primarily heart disease and stroke). Combined with reduced blood flow, neuropathy (nerve damage) in the feet increases the chance of foot ulcers, infection and eventual need for limb amputation.

Diabetic retinopathy is an important cause of blindness and occurs as a result of long-term accumulated damage to the small blood vessels in the retina. One per cent of global blindness can be attributed to diabetes. Further, diabetes is among the leading causes of kidney failure.

The overall risk of dying among people with diabetes is at least double the risk of their peers without it.

Belinda Uwayesu, whose diabetic father was admitted at CHUK said: “The cost of treating my dad has taken its toll on our income.

“He is a type 2 diabetic patient, so he doesn’t need to be on regular insulin so much, but when he does we have to pay a lot of money. We have even fundraised sometimes because our resources are depleted.

“Our dad used to be very strong so it pains us to see him in pain, unable to smile like he did before. He can no longer enjoy the things he used to enjoy. As for me, I am more aware of it so I try to get enough exercise and have check-ups whenever I can because, clearly, I am genetically inclined to get diagnosed.

“These are the preventive measures we have learnt to take as a family.”