Increased awareness could arrest ugly diabetes trends

It is almost three months now since Jonathan Sigauke (24) was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus type 1, yet he still has not come to terms with the thought of living with the non-communicable disease (NCD).


The thought that diabetes is a chronic illness fills Sigauke with fear and uncertainty about the future.

If he could turn back the hands of time, the young carpenter would have a lifestyle shift in terms of his diet, but this is rather too late and his only shot at life now is about adapting to the new reality.

“Not even the doctors were sure what could have caused this problem and it could be my past occasional drinking habits or the love for sweet things, but all that matters now is that I have to live longer,” Sigauke said.

His new diet is now limited to mostly vegan, non-sweet and lesser carbohydrates, fats and protein. And he had to give up smoking and drinking.

“I am lucky to have visited the hospital early before the, disease became extreme, otherwise I could have suffered complications like loss of eyesight or leg amputation as a result of this illness,” Sigauke said.

He added that rapid weight loss prompted him to visit the hospital.

While he was fortunate to go to hospital before a sudden collapse as is the case with other unknowing patients, it is reported an alarming 50% of those suffering from the disease are not aware of their condition and risk a tragic revelation.

For Sigauke, the greatest tragedy would have been having his limb cut off, kidney failure or going blind and each time such thoughts pass his mind he gets restless.

“I try not to think about it, but when I do, I want to wake up and even exercise in the middle of the night to avoid high sugar levels.” he said.

Sigauke added that he has become exteremely mindful of what he eats.

The complicated ailment is triggered when a person’s blood glucose or sugar levels become too high owing to the malfunction of the pancreas by not producing insulin and over time, that can cause problems associated with kidneys, nerves, feet and eyes.

Sigauke is yet to get a glucometer (machine for testing blood sugar levels) and strips to ensure he monitors his blood sugar levels.

He said he needed two injections of insulin administered after every 12 hours each day and having a medical aid facility would have been ideal for him, but because of Zimbabwe’s economic challenges, he just could not afford it.

But when he gets his monthly wage, he is able to buy the compulsory insulin supply and injections or the ‘luxurious’ mobile insulin pen which is more efficient but priced beyond the reach of many.
The burden of this health condition is heavy on urbanites but also threatens a significant population in rural areas.

“Doctors say the consequences of a reckless diet could prove lethal for me and I am not willing to take the risk, so I am cautious about everything I do,” said Sigauke, who has not visited the hospital again after his discharge.

This makes him part of a huge statistics of undocumented patients who do not go for reviews and are perhaps at risk of overdosing or taking less of the initial prescriptions they were given.

He insisted that going to the hospital would mean settling his debt with the hospital and more revelations of his situation while he misses out on a full day of work at his vending stall.

Last week, a Swiss-based pharmaceutical company, Norvatis, gave out computers to Zimbabwe Diabetic Association (ZDA), which is set to distribute them to different health institutions in and out of Harare.

ZDA president John Mangwiro said, “They have assisted us with medication before but they are saying we should be orderly and have a database so that we know patients and that they be recorded to make sure the subsidising is transparent.”

A specialist physician, Mangwiro, said the computers will help in researches to know the demographics of patients and their specific types of diabetes and assist in managing the disease.

“We can only beat this with lots of awareness so that people are acquainted with new trends because food charts with selected diets may not be enough as some cannot afford a variety of foods,” said the medical practitioner.

“We need to give information to ensure that people still manage to eat healthy foods within their economic reach,” he added.

Often times, reckless eating habits coupled with inactivity, trigger obesity, hypertension and ultimately type 2 diabetes.

“The biggest cause (of diabetes) is sedentary lifestyles and eating a lot of unrefined foods which are basically poor nutrition exposing the body to defects,” said the physician.

By 2015, the disease was estimated to be affecting one in every 10 people in Zimbabwe, including infants, a figure that is believed to have since ballooned as a result of deteriorating health services in the country.

With a membership of over 40 000, ZDA has opened different branches across the country and Mangwiro argues this has seen a slight improvement in both helping patients manage the condition and sensitise the populace to avoid new cases.

“So far there has been a slight improvement and we have been doing an extensive awareness drive with some organisations we have been working with, which have donated pills to the hospitals and we are pleading with others to donate more especially insulin and injections.”

He added efforts to provide free injections to patients under 25 are underway.

ZDA, which celebrated World Diabetes Day with the rest of the world yesterday called for an NCD diabetes government department to increase attention and action around diabetes.

Awareness is still not as aggressive as that of other diseases like cancer and HIV and Aids as those diagnosed with diabetes are often choosing to hide it.

With government seemingly having dumped the Abuja Declaration of 2001 to allocate 15% of the annual national budget, the burden is even greater for both health institutions and patients.

Recently the country has seen more rural to urban migration especially among the youths at a time when the nation is struggling to manage efforts to do with diagnosis and prognosis. There is need to sensitise people to keep watching their health

“It’s quite unfortunate that there is no documented data indicating the disease’s prevalence among youths in Zimbabwe but global trends have shown an alarming increment, which I suppose also applies to Zimbabwe,” said Zimbabwe Medical Students Association (ZIMSA) representative Masimba Ndoro.

“This should be a cause for worry as this always contributes to the total disease burden. I think lack of health awareness to the youth, failure to prioritise the health of the youth and poor health care service delivery are the major downsides, but there is potential to improve from that.”

Recent reports point to about 1,5 million Zimbabweans living with diabetes, with some of them unaware they have the condition.


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