12 February 2018

Tanzania: Why Diabetic Patients Must Watch Out for Tuberculosis

Patients with diabetes are more likely to develop tuberculosis. This is called TB-DM co-morbidity.

In this case, it means that increased cases of diabetes in the country would translate into higher rates of TB.

What happens? A diabetic patient, who happens to be infected with bacteria that cause TB, can end up with full blown TB disease due to the changes that occur in his/her body defense system.

For patients with diabetes, therefore, it's extremely important to screen for TB and live in such a way that one is not exposed to potential areas for TB infection.

But also, there is need for a health system that recognizes such a problem in the country--most important being putting in place interventions such as quick, precise diagnosis and preventive treatment for diabetic patients who have been potentially infected with TB.

Various studies have shown that areas where the number of diabetic patients with TB is high, are the same areas where there is no proper implementation of diagnostic tests for both diseases. What public health authorities can do is plan for selective treatment for the targeted population--for people who have been found to suffer both TB and diabetes. But, individual efforts in dealing preventing diabetes are still very key--mostly, things to do the lifestyle changes.

So this is because diabetes is an economically crippling disease. It causes the sufferer to incur huge medical costs for medications and treatment but also goes ahead to reduce productivity and general income. We have all heard this caution--exercise for health. Not many people tend to equate this with economic benefits. I have seen a number of diabetic patients who spend large sums of money managing complications caused by uncontrolled sugar levels such as diabetic foot, retinopathy, and peripheral neuropathy, renal and cardiac problems.

To reduce this burden, there is need for diet planning and exercising. This helps in preventing complications and death due to diabetes.

We all understand the challenge that comes with rapid urbanization. This has come with increased migration, and changes in lifestyle have contributed to the rising cases of diabetes in developing countries.

In Tanzania, diabetes affects all age groups at a prevalence of 9 per cent. But the prevalence is estimated to be around 20 per cent if other high blood sugar conditions such as pre-diabetes are considered.

Yet, just as I hinted at the beginning of this article, this has come as an additional burden. TB can sit on top of diabetes and ruin a patient's life further. Data show there were 10.4 million new TB infections and 1.4 million deaths worldwide in 2016 alone. In 2015, there were 422 million people with diabetes and 1.6 million deaths associated with the disease.

Can we control TB effectively amidst the soaring cases of diabetes? We must look into this always.

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