Kenya staring at diabetes crisis

By David Njagi

It won’t be long before the struggling medical sector is faced with a new epidemic – diabetes.
More than half a million Kenyans may not be aware they are living with the condition, medics warn.
According to them, more than five per cent of the population will be ailing with diabetes in the next decade, a period that Kenya may not have achieved the 15 per cent Abuja cap on health financing.
“Diabetes is heading towards a national epidemic although it is not yet there,” says director of medical services, Dr. Francis Kimani. “This is because it is one of the non communicable diseases making half of the admissions in hospitals.”
While this is the case, the disease is still not well treated in the country due to mixed information about it, hence the confusion about its management.
Christine Musyoki knows the pain of such ignorance. Last year, she lost her father to diabetes.
At Kathiani Hospital where her father was going for treatment, there is shortage of insulin while the doctors on duty are rarely at their work stations. Some are said to be in lucrative private practice.
“It was very early in the morning when my dad’s blood sugar went down,” she recalls tearfully. “Mum woke up a neighbor to take him to hospital.”
At the hospital which is about a kilometer away, the nurses on duty could not trace the doctors.
“We watched as dad struggled with the last straws of life,” says Christine. “The doctor arrived at 9.00 o’clock way after my dad had passed on.”
This is not the only facility in the country where negligence by medics has been reported.
The price is a slow death from a disease which can be treated if detected early, according to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) chief executive officer, Richard Lesiyampe.
While late treatment leads to complications, says Lesiyampe, about 1.6 million Kenyans have been diagnosed with diabetes.
The 2010 to 2015 National Diabetes Strategy hoped to cut the rising numbers, lately however, the disease is moving from the cities to the rural areas.
Consumption of food high in cholesterol is one of the leading causes of the condition, also classified as a lifestyle disease. The other is lack of exercise and stress.
Experts link the prevalence in rural areas to stress, as rising cost of living and shrinking resources continue to put pressure on households.
Even innovative projects like free medical camps by the Diabetes Management Information Center (DMIC) do not appear to be putting a leash on the disease.
According to DMIC executive director, Eva Muchemi, the charity group has reached 148 schools in Mombasa and Nairobi to create awareness on diabetes through community support groups.
“We also organize mobile foot clinics for those who have lost their limbs,” says Muchemi.
Meanwhile, a new project by the Merck Serono Company in collaboration with the government hopes to breathe new life in managing the disease.
The first of its kind in Africa, the project is targeting more involvement of community health workers in the management of diabetes, says Darryl Langford, the company’s general manager in south East Africa.
Ends

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About seventysixthstreet

Science and human rights journalist, Kenya
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