Diabetes and Families in South Africa
By Thabo Molelekwa
Recent data from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that 7% of South Africans between the ages of 21 and 79 years have diabetes. Based on the latest population estimates for South Africa, this means that 3.85 million South Africans in this age group may have diabetes.
As the world marks World Diabetes Awareness Month this November, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) commissioned Arlington Research to undertake global consumer research to explore knowledge and perceptions of diabetes and how the condition impacts families.
This research shows that 70% of people have a family member (living or deceased) with diabetes, while
55% claim to be ‘knowledgeable’ about diabetes, it further shows that 59% of adults aged 25-44 years claim to be ‘knowledgeable’ about diabetes compared to 49% of those aged 18-24 years. And Only 4% of respondents overall say they ‘know nothing at all‘ about diabetes.
The research supports IDF’s two-year awareness campaign focusing on family and diabetes.
This campaign aims to raise awareness of the impact of diabetes on families worldwide throughout the two-year time frame with November, Diabetes Awareness Month, and World Diabetes Day (November 14) as the focal points of global action on the part of the global diabetes community.
Health-e News spoke to Bheki Bhebhe who has lived with a diabetic family member to find out the knowledge of his family about diabetes.
What does it mean to live with a diabetic family member?
According to Bhebhe, to live with someone who is diabetic is a big responsibility especially for the family. “It means you need to learn to be consciously patient and supportive of the individual diagnosed with Diabetes. It really gets tough especially for me at a young age and I had to learn how to care for my aunt who was diagnosed with Diabetes.”
Bhebhe said that, as a family, they were not aware of how serious diabetes is until someone in the family was diagnosed “So that alone was a learning phase for us because we would never talk about it despite a long history of our family members having diabetes,” he said.
Bhebhe’s aunt got to a point where she could not speak and barely move and they had to feed her and also bath her from time to time. “Most importantly there was a strong need for us to be supportive and encouraging especially because she would get depressed as she felt she was a burden and it made her less motivated to eat enough or even take her medication,” he said.
He added that “our support and presence and patience played a big role in helping her to be strong enough to take medication”.
In her interview with Health-e News Renny Letswalo, managing director at Cambridge Weight Plan mentioned that diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputations.
“Diabetes can increase your risk of many serious health problems, most of which are entirely preventable if you keep your blood glucose in a healthy range,” said Letswalo.
According to Letswalo it is very important to go for regular checkups to identify any early signs of health issues. “Finding problems early means your chances for effective treatment are increased. Your age, current health, family history and lifestyle choices all impact on how often you need check-ups,” she said
Bhebhe told Health-e News that families need to be supportive because a strong support network is paramount. “Encouraging the patient to eat healthily, offer to exercise and adopt a healthy lifestyle together as a group or as a family as a means to make the patient feel like they belong and even asking to accompany them to the doctors is enough to give them hope to combat their diagnosis.”
“Lastly regular testing is extremely important it the first step you can take to ensuring a healthy and long life and we should learn to educate each other on diabetes only then can we combat the life-threatening disease,” he added.