Overview of Diabetes in Kenya
Diabetes is a chronic condition in which blood glucose (sugar) is too high. The blood always has some glucose in it because the body needs glucose for energy. Glucose comes from the food we eat. The pancreas produces the hormone insulin that helps glucose get from the blood into body cells where it is converted into energy. There are two major forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is characterized by a lack of insulin production; the cause is unknown and it cannot be prevented. Type 2 diabetes is far more common, accounting for about 90% of all diabetes worldwide. Often preventable, it results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. Type 2 diabetes is a chronic illness resulting largely from excess body weight and physical inactivity. Most people living with diabetes in Kenya are diagnosed too late, when preventing complications of the disease is no longer possible.
Across Kenya, community awareness around diabetes is low. People are often diagnosed through medical outreach camps or when patients arrive at the hospital with complications of diabetes like thirst, vision change, fatigue and constant hunger. For many Kenyans, the cost of health care is a key obstacle to treatment. Health care is not free in Kenya. In lower-income communities, people do not have money to buy drugs, to see the doctor, to get their tests done.”
Treatment involves lowering a patient’s blood sugar levels through a healthy diet, regular physical activity and medication when necessary. Reducing the levels of other known risk factors that can damage blood vessels, such as high blood pressure, is also important.
Once seen as a disease of affluent societies, diabetes has become a growing problem in developing countries—an increase driven largely by a rise in obesity. Of the estimated 1.5 million global diabetes deaths in 2012, more than 80% occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
About 1% of deaths in Kenya were directly attributable to diabetes in 2012, according to WHO data. But this is likely an under-estimate. Most people with diabetes do not die of causes uniquely related to diabetes, but of associated cardiovascular complications, like heart attack. Notes WHO. Over time, diabetes can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves, causing chronic problems and early death. There is a growing strain that diabetes and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs)—such as heart disease, stroke and cancers—are placing on the national health care system. Currently, more than half the occupancy of hospital beds is due to NCDs. Almost half of deaths reported by hospitals are due to NCDs.
The increased consumption of unhealthy food is a major risk factor for NCDs. Traditionally, 20 or 30 years ago, people depended more on health foods rich in grains and vegetables. Currently, people depend on processed foods that are available in markets all over the country. At the same time, physical activity is declining as more people depend on motorized transport. And, as buildings replace playgrounds, children are left with few places to engage in sports. Tobacco and alcohol use are other important risk factors for NCDs.
WHO provides technical guidelines for diabetes prevention, develops standards for diabetes diagnosis and care, and builds awareness around the global epidemic of diabetes.
The WHO Global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs (2013-2020), endorsed by the World Health Assembly in 2013, includes a road map for countries and their development partners to attain nine targets.
Action Plan Key Goals
Early diagnosis and treatment are key to prevent the complications of diabetes and achieve healthy outcomes.
Diabetes affects people from all walks life-from the very young to very old: