Diabetes: What you need to know as a Kenyan - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 2 January 2021

Diabetes: What you need to know as a Kenyan


Blurred vision, increased thirst and frequent urination. These are some of the words that Teresa Atieno used to describe her diabetic condition.

With frequent wounds that could not heal quickly, Teresa says that being a house help did not help much.

“I was having all these symptoms while working, but I took them lightly since I did not really know what was happening to me. One day, I felt really sick and had to rush to the doctor,” she says.

Speaking as she folds clothes in her house in Lower Kabete area, Teresa says that she was shocked when the doctor found she was sick.

“Who would have thought that I suffer from diabetes? I used to joke that I would only stop taking sugar when I get sick but then having the disease has really been an eye opener to me,” she says.

The number of Kenyans with diabetes has grown from 460,000 in 2017 to 700,000 as of November 2019, International Diabetes Federation statistics showed.

In Africa, there were 15 million cases in 2017 and 19 million in 2019, a growth of two million in just two years.

Teresa says that being told about her condition made her shed tears since she did not know how to deal with it.

“I am being paid Sh8,000 per month. And with this disease, I was not sure if I would make it . The doctor suggested that I buy a glucose meter to measure how much sugar is in my blood,” she says.

“This was just to ensure that whenever the sugar rises, I would be able to manage it properly. But the money I get cannot be enough to pay for the device and also to sustain me.”

The 32-year-old lady, who is 79kg, was forced to stay away from sugar and other food stuff that would make her sugar level rise.

“It has been a nightmare since I love cakes, wheat, sweets but with this condition and in a bid to lose weight, I have to stop. I have to stay alive for my two babies who look up to me in the village,” she added.

Teresa says that for her to be able to ensure that her blood level is okay, she has to go for testing to a nearby clinic.

“I go there once a week to get tested and I pay Sh150 per visit. I am supposed to go there twice a week but then, I don't have that money to spare. So I prefer doing the tests once,” she said.

Coupled with her work, Teresa ensures that she goes for her exercise in a bid to reduce her weight.

“I jog in the evenings when the babies are asleep for at least 45 minutes before I jump with a rope that my employer bought me. It’s not easy because sometimes I get really tired and lazy but then what can I do?” she posed.

Teresa is part of 15 percent of the households in Kenya reported to be having at least one member with diabetes among them. This is according to the latest KNBS report released in October.

This was out of the 18.2 per cent of the households that claimed to have at least a member with a pre-existing medical condition.

But what exactly is this disease that creeps in silently into people’s lives without notice?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or the body cannot use insulin that it produces effectively.

Speaking during an interview, Parklands diabetologist Gaman Mohammed said that a person with diabetes could have three main types.

“The first type is when a person does not have insulin or insulin does not work in a body or gestational diabetes,” he said.

Mohammed said there is also a diabetic condition that is genetically driven when a person has abnormalities in their system.

He says that each type of diabetes has unique symptoms, causes, and treatments and should be treated differently.

“About 50 percent of the Kenyan population does not know whether they have diabetes because some come without symptoms,” he said.

But he notes that some of the common symptoms include burning sensations on the feet, heart stroke, fatigue, frequent urination among others.

Mohammed said that people can only be diagnosed with the disease if they do routine check ups instead of assuming that they are healthy.

The diabetologist said gestational diabetes which is temporary is mostly seen in women who are pregnant.

“This is when the sugar level rises when a woman is pregnant. This is caused by the hormonal imbalance that is always present when the woman is going to have a baby,” he said.

However, he notes that the risks of the baby also having the disease is slim since the disease is not communicable.

“The risk is 2 to 5 per cent. Though it's rare in most cases,” he said.

Mohammed advised those who have the disease but cannot afford the cost of treatment to change their lifestyle.

“Look at how you live and what you eat. These are some of the things that can either make your sugar rise or go low,” he said.

He adds that as a Kenyan, you need to cut down on ugali, vegetables, rice and other foods.

“Reduce carbohydrates and sugar intake. In fact, you are supposed to take a quarter of carbohydrates, quarter proteins, vegetables among others.”

“You can eat regularly but just ensure that you do not consume too much carbohydrates. You do not want someone to binge through it so it must be regulated,” he said. 

He says that people affected should also walk and exercise regularly.

“The walk or exercise should be around 30 to 45 minutes daily so that a person can lose weight. While doing this, you also need to go for regular check ups,” he said.

“Have a test done. It only costs around Sh150 to Sh200 but also people should get their NHIF cover to help them with some of the medications.”

The World Health Organisation says that most people with diabetes do not die of causes uniquely related to diabetes, but of associated complications like a heart attack.

The prevalence of diabetes in Kenya has more than doubled in the last three decades, accounting for 20 percent of deaths.

WHO indicates that an estimated 1.6 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes globally and another 2.2 million attributed to high blood glucose in 2012.

A report jointly published by WHO and Lancet in 2016 showed that the prevalence of diabetes in Kenya was six per cent in 2014.

It noted that one in every 17 Kenyans has diabetes, and 12,890 people died from diabetes and high blood glucose in 2014.

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