A diabetes treatment expert, Dr Yacoba Atiase, has said diabetes has reached epidemic levels in the country and so it should be managed as such.
Dr Atiase, who is the Head of the Diabetes Centre at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, explained that from being a rare disease 50 years ago, diabetes was now everywhere in the country, adding that half the patients on admission at hospitals were being diagnosed with diabetes, even though they were on admission for different ailments.
Speaking at the launch of affordable access to diabetes care and the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Sanofi, the French multinational pharmaceutical and healthcare company, in Accra last Friday, Dr Atiase called for aggressive public education on the disease, as was done in 2020 during the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That, the consultant diabetologist and endocrinologist said, would enable everybody to know about the disease and how to manage it.
“I describe it as an epidemic or even a pandemic because now the disease is everywhere. Diabetes is becoming predominant, not only in adults but also children, and it is affecting our aged; it is affecting everybody.
“We did well in 2020 with the COVID-19. There was massive education to the extent that everybody knew about the pandemic and how to manage it.
“There are people with all the symptoms — urinating frequently, losing weight, etc. — but it hasn’t crossed their minds that they have diabetes. There is work to be done,” Dr Atiase stressed.
The Minister of Health, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, signed the MoU on behalf of the ministry, while the Head of Sanofi sub-Saharan Africa, Dr Stephane Gokou, initialled for the company.
Under the MoU, healthcare authorities in the country will be able to purchase affordable high-quality Sanofi analogue insulin produce.
It also provides for the deployment of diabetes management solutions in four Ghanaian diabetes centres where 500 healthcare professionals will benefit from a targeted medical training programme.
In addition, Sanofi will co-develop a digital solution to help physicians, nurses, pharmacists and community healthcare workers to better support more than 5,000 people living with diabetes in Ghana.
The agreement will also provide patient support initiatives and measures designed to help strengthen the Ghanaian health system.
Managing diabetes epidemic
Dr Atiase said to manage a diabetes epidemic, healthcare workers must be bombarded with education to the point where they would know what to do for patients with the disease and also for patients to have excellent comprehensive care.
It also required access to health care and medication by patients, she said, adding that every community must have a place where diabetic patients could be seen.
Quoting statistics, Dr Atiase said in the 1950s, Ghana had less than one per cent of its population living with diabetes.
“Now, we have between eight and nine per cent being diabetic, which we think will be an underestimation of the real numbers on the ground, ” she said.
Globally, in 2000, 150 million people lived with diabetes, and by 2013, the figure had risen to 382 million, while in 2017, it was 425 million people.
Dr Atiase said this year, the number of people living with diabetes was 537 million, representing one in every 10 adults, while 6.7 million deaths were attributed to diabetes every year, which represented one death every five seconds.
“This is not good; 50 per cent of people living with diabetes do not even know they have diabetes, and in Ghana, this percentage may be higher.
“In 2021, Africa had 24 million people living with diabetes. By 2030, there will be 33 million people living with diabetes, and by 2045, there will be 55 million people living with the disease in Africa alone,” she pointed out.
Management of Diabetes
For his part, the Minister of Health said prioritising the prevention, early detection and management of diabetes in Ghana was crucial to reducing the morbidity and mortality of the disease.
He added that that required collective action and commitment from various stakeholders.
Describing diabetes as a significant public health challenge, the Health Minister said its management required multi-sectoral action, including partnerships among the government, healthcare providers, civil society organisations and the private sector.
Mr Agyeman-Manu, therefore, described the MoU with Sanofi as a timely intervention necessary to enhance the management of diabetes in the country, as it would help people who had the disease have greater access to equitable, comprehensive, affordable and quality care for better outcomes.
“This partnership is a very strategic and important one in our fight against diabetes to try to ensure that by 2030, the numbers that we are projecting will not be real,” he said.
Speaking from the French capital, Paris, through Zoom, the Executive Vice-President of Sanofi, Olivier Charmeil, said the objective of the company was to galvanise efforts to reduce the risk of diabetes and ensure affordable and quality diabetes treatment.
Pointing out that diabetes management was a shared responsibility, he said Sanofi wanted to be part of Ghana’s journey on that path.