‘Millions of Nigerians do not know their diabetes status’

As Nigeria joined the rest of the world to observe this year’s World Diabetes Day with the  theme “Eyes on Diabetes,” health professionals in Nigeria and other countries of the world harp on the importance of screening to know one’s diabetic status and the significance of early detection of diabetes. VERA ONANA reports.


How can one be suffering from diabetes and not even know it? Sadly, statistics reveal that an estimated 5 million Nigerian adults suffer from diabetes with less than 50 per cent of these patients being aware of their condition. This, according to research, means half of the adults with diabetes do not even know they have it and late diagnosis can lead to serious complications.

According to the World Health Organisation(WHO), one person dies from diabetes every six seconds. WHO says “diabetes is becoming more common around the world and that is why prevention was the thrust of this year’s World Diabetes Day.”

World Diabetes Day, WDD 2016 was tagged “Eyes on Diabetes” and marked around the globe on Monday, 14 November. This year’s activities and materials focused on promoting the importance of screening to ensure early diagnosis of type 2 diabetes and treatment to reduce the risk of serious complications.

Consultant Endocrinologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Dr Olufemi Fasanmade, explained that Diabetes mellitus continues to increase in prevalence worldwide and no country has been able to reduce the frequency. “There are between five to six million people affected among the over 180 million Nigerian population.”

The condition, Fasanmade stressed, is usually silent until complications set in. “In those lucky to have symptoms, these may include passing plenty urine, excessive thirst, hunger, weight loss and weakness. Others may notice poor vision and frequent boils on their body or poorly healing wounds. Pregnant women may experience miscarriages, still births or very large babies.”

Diabetes is one of the most common non-communicable disorders today. It is a chronic metabolic disease characterised by high levels of blood glucose. According to experts, a diabetic has a condition in which the quantity of glucose in the blood is too elevated (hyperglycemia). This is because the body either does not produce enough insulin, produces no insulin, or has cells that do not respond properly to the insulin the pancreas produces. This results in too much glucose building up in the blood. This excess blood glucose eventually passes out of the body in urine.

Symptoms associated with the disease as frequent urination, excessive thirst, increased appetite, weight loss among others.

Recently, at a media round-table organised by Nigeria Health Online to kick off activities marking the 2016 World Health Day in Nigeria, the Minister of Health Professor Issac Adewole, recognised that diabetes is gradually becoming an epidemic worldwide and Nigeria remains one of the countries with a large number of people living with diabetes.

Adewole, who was represented by the Chief Medical Director of Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Professor Chris Bode, said “Diabetes is a silent killer, as a result of which many people in the country do not know they have the disease and continue to live without taking necessary precaution. There is a great need for everyone in the country to join hands and prevent diabetes while those already diagnosed should adhere strictly to their doctor’s recommendations on control measures,” he urged.

As this year’s awareness campaign encourages people to get tested as soon as possible, health professionals in interaction with hundreds of diabetics in Lagos, urged other Nigerians to know their diabetes status. At the event held to mark 2016 WDD in Lagos, health professionals stressed that making diabetes screening routine like high blood pressure would help in the early detection of large number of people living with the disease without knowing it.

The Medical Director, Rainbow Hospital, Lagos, Dr. Afoke Isiavwe said “diabetes is almost becoming an epidemic.” Isiavwe who is also the Coordinator, Diabetes Podiatry Initiative Nigeria, regretted that millions of Nigerians do not know their diabetes status.

Diabetes screening according to experts, means conducting tests to detect the disease even before symptoms appear. Screening helps in the early diagnosis of diabetes so that the appropriate treatment can be instated at an early date. It is medical fact that diabetes under control is usually associated with lesser complications than that which is not properly managed.

According to Fasanmade, “diabetes could bring about other health complications like blindness, kidney failure, leg amputation, strokes, heart attacks and erectile dysfunction.”

Therefore, “everyone should be encouraged to know their status by screening but most importantly, people at a higher risk for diabetes, like those with a family history should particularly undergo screening,” expert said.

The Acu-Chek Product Manager, Roche Products Limited Mrs Folashade Olufemi-Ajayi, appealed to government to make a policy that would mandate checking of blood glucose as routine just like blood pressure. She said if this is made compulsory in hospitals, “we will be able to detect early people in their pre-diabetes stage or down with diabetes and this will reduce further progression into complications.”

Fasanmade added that the government has tried to limit the increased frequency of diabetes in Nigeria by encouraging exercise, discouraging excess food and drink intake and promoting regular screening programs. All of which play important roles in the prevention of diabetes.

Exercise, experts say can help in weight loss, lowering blood sugar and boosting sensitivity to insulin — which helps keep the blood sugar within a normal range. Aerobic exercise and resistance training can help control diabetes, but the greater benefit comes from a fitness programme that includes both.

Also, nutritionists advise that people eat plenty of foods high in fibre such as fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Fibre in diet helps reduce the risk of diabetes by improving blood sugar control, lowering risk of heart disease and promoting weight loss. Whole grains may also reduce the risk of diabetes and help maintain blood sugar levels.

Many foods made from whole grains come ready to eat, including bread, pasta products and many cereals.

Statistics from the WHO indicate that Nigeria has the highest number of people living with diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa. To this end, a consultant endocrinologist at the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta, Dr. Biyi Adesina, in an interaction with reporters of one of the national newspapers, urged Nigerians to lead a diet revolution to avert an epidemic of diabetes that may hit the country in the near future.

“There is a greater epidemic coming our way in Nigeria when the children of today grow up tomorrow to be leaders: The diet they are consuming now is high in all sorts of sugar sweetened drinks, instead of fruits, and this will lead to increased incidences of diabetes.

“That is why the government should be in the forefront of a diet ‘ethical revolution’ for us to go back to the traditional African diet. There should be legislation on the quantity of sugar in the soft drinks, which is currently the equivalent of 15 cubes of sugar in a bottle. Pepsi Cola in USA recently did this. Children should be sent to school with water and oranges,” Adesina said.