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Diabetes costs Africa billions—and the bill is rising

Researchers have estimated that diabetes cost sub-Saharan Africa almost US$20 billion in 2015, with an even gloomier prognosis for the future.

An article on diabetes in Africa in The Lancet in July puts the 2015 figure as 1.2 per cent of the region’s total GDP.

The paper involved a large team of local and international researchers led by Rifat Atun from Harvard’s school of public health in the United States.

Of the total costs, US$12bn were incurred in Southern Africa. Previous research has identified South Africa and Egypt as the prime drivers of Africa’s diabetes epidemic. The report judged that 70 per cent of South African women are overweight or obese.

East Africa incurred diabetes-related costs of almost US$4bn, while West and Central Africa’s burdens were estimated at US$1.7bn and US$1.8bn respectively.

Of Africa’s total diabetes bill, just over 40 per cent came from indirect costs such as productivity losses and premature death.

The researchers say things might get even worse. A best case scenario puts costs at US$35.3bn by 2030, while the gloomiest forecast is almost US$60bn.

“Both demographic changes and urbanisation rates are likely to be substantial drivers of future costs because an urban sedentary lifestyle is considered an important risk factor for diabetes,” the authors say.

The paper warns that the real burden of diabetes and related diseases is still unknown, given that many countries in Africa lack adequate data and data collection systems.

“This report must influence a concerted effort and inform a responsive strategy by policy makers, funding agencies and researchers to afford people with diabetes in sub-Saharan Africa with a better quality of life,” said Naomi Levitt, one of the authors from South Africa, in a statement.