Almost 80 percent of South African parents would have trouble recognising the warning signs of diabetes in their own children and delayed diagnosis has serious consequences including amputations.

This is according to new research released by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) on Wednesday: World Diabetes Day.

On Sunday KwaZulu-Natal MEC for health Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo revealed that six amputations occur every single day, or 2500 a year, in his province alone.

But Professor Thifheli Luvhengo Clinical Head of the Department of Surgery at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital said this is a nation-wide crisis where failing to prevent and manage the disease is causing widespread preventable disability.

Diabetes: A bigger problem than HIV

“Diabetes patients are filling up our surgical wards to the point where I can say HIV is a small problem compared to diabetes,” he said.

According to Luvhengo the high costs of treating the disease and its complications, especially amputations which can render people unable to work, is “going to destroy the economy of this country”.

According to the IDF “a lack of knowledge about diabetes means that spotting the warning signs is not just a problem for parents, but is an issue impacting a cross-section of society”.

“Left untreated or unmanaged, diabetes can lead to life-changing complications [including] blindness, amputation, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke,” said the organisation.

Diabetes warning signs

They said that this is a “major concern” because sings of type 2 diabetes, responsible for 90 percent of cases, can be mild.

These signs include frequent urination, excessive thirst, increased hunger, weight loss, tiredness, blurred vision, frequent infections, slow-healing wounds and a tingling sensation or numbness in the hands and feet, according to the Department of Health (DoH).

In 2016, diabetes killed more women in South Africa than any other disease as revealed by the latest data from Statistics South Africa.

“Diabetes can become a life-threatening disease. It has devastating complications if not treated early and managed appropriately,” said IDF President Professor Nam H. Cho.

The DoH conservatively estimates that one out of three people with diabetes don’t know they have the condition and about a quarter of newly diagnosed patients have already developed complications.

Late diagnosis and complications

Cho said that many people “particularly in developing countries” are “diagnosed too late when complications are already present”.

“This is unacceptable and needs to change as a matter of urgency.”

The IDF’s Dr Belma Malanda told Health-e News that, “as a leading country in the region” South Africa needs to set an example in terms of ramping up prevention measures and access to quality care.

“Anything that starts in South Africa would impact neighbouring countries in a positive way so we really need South Africa to play that role,” he said. – Health-e News

An edited version of this story was published by