ZIMBABWE— UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, has observed an increase in noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in Zimbabwe, with a growing proportion of children suffering from Type 2 diabetes, a condition generally associated with adults.

Furthermore, Type 1 diabetes is sometimes left undetected in primary care until a kid becomes seriously ill and needs to be hospitalised.

While Type 1 diabetes is usually caused by a genetic disease, children are becoming more susceptible to Type 2 diabetes as their diets and lives evolve.

Type 1 diabetes causes glucose (sugar) levels in the blood to become excessively high because the body cannot make insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose.  

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is often caused by sedentary lifestyles, obesity, and poor eating habits.

According to Dr. Life Zambezi, while the condition is becoming more common in most African countries and is typically linked with adults, there are now more cases among children in Zimbabwe.

“Of late, children are also getting Type 2 diabetes, mainly due to lifestyle changes,” noted Zambezi. He explains this rise to children’s frequent consumption of processed and unhealthy meals, which leads to childhood obesity and, eventually, Type 2 diabetes.

UNICEF, with the sponsorship of Eli Lilly, launched a project in five countries, including Zimbabwe, in 2022 to prevent, detect, treat, and support NCDs.

 Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health received a US$2.5 million grant to train community health workers and increase support and awareness of several NCDs, including diabetes in children.

Despite these attempts, children are frequently identified with diabetes after they have fallen into a diabetic coma.

Dr. Zambezi also discusses how the exorbitant cost of insulin has made life tough for diabetics, many of whom cannot afford this life-saving medication.

“NCDs in children result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and behavioural factors,” noted Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro during the initiative’s launch.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Type 2 diabetes affects around 422 million people worldwide, with the vast majority residing in low- and middle-income countries, and the illness kills 1.5 million people each year.

However, collecting accurate contemporary data on the prevalence of diabetes in Zimbabwe, a country of 17 million people, is difficult.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF), an umbrella organisation of over 240 national diabetes associations in 160 nations and territories throughout the world, reports that Zimbabwe has 106,400 diabetic adults.

By 2017, the Zimbabwe Diabetic Association, a local IDF member, claimed that diabetes affected ten out of every hundred persons, including children.  

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