By Charndré Emma Kippie


KZN: most affected by diabetes

Recent studies have indicated that the Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the widespread influx of diagnosed diabetes cases in South Africa. Diabetes has been called a ‘silent killer’ as the earliest symptoms of the disease are often left undiagnosed. With this in mind, doctors have categorised diabetes as a ‘high risk factor’ for individuals who are infected with the coronavirus. 

Studies conducted in 2021, thus far, have also indicated that the prevalence of diabetes is higher in KwaZulu-Natal than anywhere else in South Africa. 


Diabetes Virtual Summit

On Wednesday 10 November 2021 (ahead of World Diabetes Day on 14 November), the Diabetes Virtual Summit was opened to the public — an initiative geared towards educating the masses on the severe impact of the disease in correlation with diabetes and finding actionable solutions to the crisis. The summit was themed: Building Back Better: Diabetes Response in SA post-Covid. 

“In the immediate wake of Covid-19, it is time to take stock. As one of the top comorbidities for severe Covid-19 infection and poor outcomes, diabetes has been brought into the spotlight”, said a release issued by the Diabetes Alliance. 

“The South African Diabetes Summit will take stock of the current diabetes situation and produce a Diabetes Charter that will allow the government and all interested parties to ‘build back better’ in terms of the South African response to the diabetes epidemic.”

Bridget McNulty, the current Diabetes Alliance Chairperson, announced that the organisation, in collaboration with the University of Pretoria’s Diabetes Research Centre (DRC), would be leading the inaugural summit. This high-priority response was deemed a necessity for addressing the “country’s exploding diabetes crisis”, said McNulty. 

“Instead of just telling people about diabetes in South Africa, we’ve invited all those living with and working with diabetes to join us in co-creating SA’s first Diabetes Charter which will be launched at the summit.

“Do South Africans really need another summit? Yes, especially one about diabetes and especially in the wake of Covid-19 which was devastating for people with diabetes,” said McNulty.

According to research presented in the SA Medical Journal, “the crude prevalence of diabetes for KZN was 12.5% which was higher than the known prevalence of 9.2%”, she said.

“This could be as a result of the large number of South African Indians in KZN, as there has been shown to be a strong genetic predisposition to Type 2 diabetes in SA. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to have an SA Diabetes Summit ‒ and Charter. Our multicultural society needs specifically South African solutions to the diabetes crisis”, McNulty indicated. 

Type 2 diabetes is often played down as a ‘simple lifestyle issue’ involving a bad diet and lack of good physical exercise. However, the hereditary predisposition of Type 2 diabetes patients is actually a critical part of this problem. 

“We have all been affected by this growing epidemic. Every person in South Africa knows someone or has a family member living with diabetes. Undiagnosed, untreated and uncontrolled diabetes is leading to serious complications. People with diabetes have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and many have died”, McNulty concluded. 


The South African Diabetes Charter

This Diabetes Charter will be centered around 5 themes, in alliance with the WHO Global Diabetes Compact:


Awareness and prevention

65% of South Africans aged 15 years or older have intermediate hyperglycaemia / fall in the prediabetic range. We have an opportunity to prevent this portion of our population from developing Type 2 diabetes, if we act now.



Diabetes is primarily a self-managed chronic condition that should not be lethal. The right diabetes education can empower people with diabetes to live long, healthy lives. This includes the education of health care professionals. People living with diabetes need to be engaged in the development, review and updating of all promotional and educational resources.


Management and access to care

We know there is suboptimal control of people living with diabetes, with less than 20% meeting their treatment targets. We need to ensure that all healthcare disciplines work together on strengthening and ensuring continuity of care and integrated care pathways.



We need data on who has diabetes in South Africa: strong systems to monitor and measure our efforts and progress.


Innovation and research

Digital health, telemedicine and innovations could improve diabetes management in South Africa. This could expand cost-effective access to care from a shrinking pool of health professionals.


What Statistics Show:

  • South Africa is one of the 48 countries of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) African region. 
  • Diabetes is a leading cause of death in South Africa.
  • Shockingly, about 463 million global citizens have diabetes, and more than 19 million these citizens reside in Africa.
  • Socioeconomic disparities and other factors contribute to the prevalence of diabetes in South Africa.
  • The prevalence of diabetes in South Africa is currently 9.2%
  • It is predicted that by 2045, 47 million people in the African region will have diabetes. 



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