Diabetes and COVID-19 in South Africa

diabetes and covid 19

In the Western Cape, people living with diabetes have emerged as the group with the highest risk of severe complications from COVID-19.

According to statistics released by the provincial government, almost half the diabetics who have tested positive for the virus have been admitted to hospital.

Of these, 45% have succumbed to complications arising from COVID-19.

4.5 million South Africans at risk

Now, with infection rate soaring in the rest of the country, an estimated 4.5 million South Africans diagnosed with diabetes are similarly at risk.

The question is: why are diabetics more susceptible to COVID-19?

What steps can be taken to mitigate the effects of the virus on people living with diabetes?

The link between diabetes and COVID-19

It’s important to note that diabetics are not at higher risk of contracting the virus.

However, diabetes is a chronic inflammatory disease that comprises the immune system.

This results in the symptoms of COVID-19 being more severe in diabetics.

So, without optimal management, diabetics with the virus are at a higher risk of experiencing adverse outcomes.

Abnormal glucose levels raise risk

Evidence suggests that diabetics with abnormal glucose levels are more likely to require hospitalisation.

People who have pre-existing health problems relating to diabetes are far more vulnerable to the effects of the virus.

Does the type of diabetes alter risk?

There’s no evidence that COVID-19 poses more of a risk to type 1 or type 11 diabetics.

The consensus is that proper management of the disease is key.

Glycaemic control is the cornerstone of diabetes management and has proved to be the bulwark against end-organ disease.

How the Western Cape is taking a proactive approach

The Western Cape has devised a proactive strategy targeting COVID-positive diabetics.

The plan is aimed at monitoring diabetes self-management protocols and blood-glucose levels through daily telephone calls.

Anyone whose condition deteriorates or shows signs of hyperglycaemia is encouraged to go to hospital via the provincial emergency services.

Once admitted, the patient’s blood sugar levels are optimised.

The patient may be treated with high-flow nasal oxygen.

General tips for managing diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition but a healthy lifestyle can help manage it.

These tips promote optimum health and wellbeing in people with diabetes.

Join a support group

This can help you deal with the psychological effects of living with diabetes.

Diabetes South Africa has a network of groups located across the country and several WhatsApp groups.

Switch to a healthy diet

Diabetes is an inflammatory condition, so sugar, animal fats, gluten, preservatives and excessive amounts of alcohol are not ideal.

Adopt a healthy diet consisting of leafy green vegetables, fruit, fish, nuts, free-range chicken, eggs and olive oil.

Implement a daily exercise routine

Regular exercise balances blood-sugar levels, maintains heart health, builds muscle and keeps weight in check.

Check blood glucose levels regularly

A glucometer allows you to check your levels at home with a simple pin-prick blood test.

Take medications at the same time every day

If you’re prescribed medications to control your diabetes you must take them at the same time each day as advised by your doctor.

Take special care of your feet

It’s especially important to look after your feet if you have diabetes.

Diabetes can reduce the blood supply to your feet and cause peripheral neuropathy.

How your medical aid can help

Most medical aid schemes in South Africa have dedicated diabetes management programmes mandated to provide the most appropriate treatment and care.

In addition, schemes like Discovery Health have introduced extended benefits for COVID-positive members.

These benefits cover screening consultations and tests, pathology tests, X-rays and scans, and supportive treatment, in and out of hospital.

If you’re diabetic and suspect you may have the virus, your medical aid has the tools, technology and expertise to help you monitor and manage your condition.

It can identify your potential risk based on your unique diabetes management score.

IFC can help you manage your diabetes and COVID-19 in South Africa

At IFC, we offer informed, objective advice about diabetes care, and can assist you in joining the medical scheme that best suits your needs and budget.

Contact us for more information or to discuss your needs.

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