Ahead of World Diabetes Day on 14 November, women need to make themselves aware of diabetes risk factors and take steps to improve their health and that of their families.

Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) is a growing health risk for both men and women around the world. With this year’s World Diabetes Day focus on women, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) notes that there are currently over 199 million women living with diabetes worldwide, with this number projected to increase to 313 million by 2040.

Diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death in women globally, causing 2.1 million deaths each year. Two out of every five women with diabetes are of reproductive age, accounting for over 60 million women at increased risk of difficulty conceiving and poor pregnancy outcomes due to their diabetes.

Across Africa, the regional prevalence of diabetes was 3.2%, expected to increase to 3.7% by 2040. This region has the highest proportion (66.7%) of undiagnosed diabetes, and over the past few decades, diabetes has emerged as an important non-communicable disease (NCD) in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa (SEMDSA).

In South Africa, the IDF estimates that over 2.3 million people have diabetes but around 61% of them are undiagnosed. In addition, the prevalence of diabetes in rural dwellers is increasing rapidly, with the Asian and Coloured populations having the highest prevalence of diabetes in South Africa.

Diabetes is a leading cause of death among women, yet the risk of developing diabetes as well as the risk of premature death among people with diabetes can be significantly reduced through proper management.

“There are clearly modifiable risk factors driving the diabetes epidemic; the rising prevalence of obesity is one of the most important,” said Medical Director and Chief Scientific Officer at Novartis South Africa, Dr Nicola Lister.

Steps to take

“Up to 70% of cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented through lifestyle interventions such as improving nutrition and increasing physical activity,” said Dr Lister.

“Women and girls are the focus of this year’s World Diabetes Day because, across much of the world, gender roles and power dynamics influence vulnerability to diabetes, affect access to health services and health seeking behaviour for women, and amplify the impact of diabetes on women. Women also play an important role in making the lifestyle and nutrition choices on behalf of their families. Empowering them with knowledge will help them safeguard their own health and reduce the risk of their families developing diabetes too,” continued Dr Lister.

Diabetes screening is very important, since early detection allows for improved management. Achieving optimal diabetes outcomes requires access to essential diabetes medicines and technologies, self-management, education and information. In addition, pregnant women require improved access to screening, care and education to achieve positive outcomes for both mother and child, says the IDF.

“Novartis supports the World Diabetes Day 2017 campaign to raise awareness around the prevention and management of diabetes. We urge South Africans to empower themselves with knowledge on diabetes and to make lifestyle changes to improve their health,” concluded Dr Lister.

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