Over 25 million people in Africa are living with type II diabetes and more than half of them are unaware of their status and are not receiving treatment, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
The international health agency's Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, stated this at a press conference held at the WHO Nigeria Country Office in Abuja in commemoration of the World Diabetes Day.
She said over 90 per cent of diabetes is type II diabetes, stressing that if not well managed, diabetes may cause blindness, kidney failure, lower limb amputation and other complications.
The World Diabetes Day is celebrated November 14 to create awareness about the disease and to educate people on the need for regular medical checks to prevent or receive treatment for the disease.
This year, the theme for the celebration is "The Family and Diabetes."
Ms Moeti who was represented at the press conference by the Officer in Charge in Nigeria, Clement Peter, said the theme underscores the impact of diabetes on individuals and families, and the important role they play in the prevention and control of the disease.
Diabetes is one of the most deadly non-communicable diseases in the world. In 2015, an estimated 1.6 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes and another 2.2 million deaths were attributed to high blood glucose in 2012.
Diabetes is a serious, persistent disease in which blood sugar is elevated. It may either be due to the pancreas not producing enough insulin (Type 1 Diabetes), or the body being unable to effectively use the insulin it produces (Type 2 Diabetes).
Mr Peters said there is a need for African government to accelerate access to healthcare services through people-centred primary health care and universal health coverage. This, he said, is very necessary as the region has experienced a six-fold increase in cases of the disease, from 4 million in 1980 to 25 million in 2014.
He attributed the rise to the aging populations and lifestyle changes, including unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity.
According to him, since 1980, the occurrence of type II diabetes has risen dramatically in all countries of all income levels and overweight and obesity are the strongest risk factors for type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other non-communicable diseases.
He said the disease always has a significant impact on the family, and that is the reason why the international agency chose the family as part of its theme for this year.
Mr Peter said early diagnosis and treatment are important for preventing complications of diabetes.
"Since diabetes can potentially strike any family, awareness of the signs, symptoms and risk factors is important to help detect it early. Having diabetes can also drain family finances when people with diabetes have to pay out of their own pockets for treatment.
"While family genes can be the cause of diabetes, family support can be a key benefit for people with diabetes. For instance, families can choose to buy and serve healthy and balanced diets, encourage participation in physical activity, and promote healthy living environments.
"Disability or premature death due to diabetes can push families into poverty. Diabetes is also a huge burden on the health care system and the national economy," he said.
Speaking on the dangers of not getting early and consistent treatment for diabetes, a medical doctor, Tavershima Adongo, said diabetes is fast becoming one of the top non-communicable diseases with a high rate of co-morbidities (disabling conditions) that can be difficult to manage due to limited resources and low patient/care giver awareness.
He said children and adults are equally suspectible, with pregnant women having an increased chance of becoming diabetic.
"People living with diabetes have to take medications every day and go for regular medical check-ups, as the effects, if not checked can lead to eye, hands and feet, kidney, and brain issues among many. An average family in Nigeria can spend about half of its monthly household expenditure on treating a family member with diabetes.
"As one of my patients put it 'the HIV patients have it better off than me o, I have to spend plenty money on these drugs and tests', referring to the free ARV medicines that HIV/AIDS patients get.
"It would be good for us as a society to develop a framework for an all-round support for persons living with this disease to aid early diagnosis, access to medicines, and social support services," Mr Adongo said.