About 18.3 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in the African region are among people with diabetes, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.
This was contained in a statement issued ahead of the World Diabetes Day, commemorated on November 14 annually to create awareness about the disease.
According to the international health agency, an analysis of 14 African countries, showed that the risk of complications from COVID-19 among people with diabetes increases with age.
The analysis also revealed that people aged 60 years and above face greater risks of the virus which has infected over 52 million people worldwide.
Diabetes is one of the conditions that global studies have found to increase the risk of severe illness and death among patients infected with the COVID-19 virus.
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.
It 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).
The African region has experienced a six-fold increase, from 4 million cases in 1980 to 25 million in 2014.
With around 60 per cent of people living with diabetes undiagnosed, the African region has the highest proportion of people unaware of their status.
A study in Kenya also found that 60 per cent of people diagnosed with the chronic condition were not on medication.
“Far too many people are in the dark as to whether they have diabetes. People with this chronic condition suffer a double blow if they are also infected with COVID-19,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said.
She said it is important to start investing in early detection, prevention and treatment of diabetes.
Ms Moeti also urged countries not to lose sight of other health issues threatening the world.
“We must not lose sight of other health challenges as we combat COVID-19. World Diabetes Day is a key moment to call attention to this chronic illness, which is increasingly threatening the lives of Africans,” she said.
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, health services for diabetes were particularly disrupted.
Only about a third of reporting countries in a WHO survey of 41 countries in sub-Saharan Africa indicated that services were fully functional.