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Scientists recommend context-specific treatment guidelines for diabetes in Africa

Unit Scientists pose for a photo at the Conference

Four Ph.D. fellows from the Unit’s Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) theme took part in this year’s annual scientific conference, which was hosted by the Uganda Diabetes Association and co-funded by the Unit. Drs. Jean Claude Katte, Wisdom Nakanga, Davis Kibirige, and Anxious Niwaha were joined by a specialist clinician from the Unit’s Clinical Diagnostics and Laboratory Services platform, Ms. Priscilla Balungi to share the latest research findings in diabetes diagnosis, treatment, and management from continental Unit-led studies, with over 300 participants from research, academic and health service provision institutions, as well as health commodity distributors.

The one-day event themed ‘Addressing the Challenge of Diabetes Heterogeneity Using Locally Derived Clinical Evidence’ presented a platform to share key lessons from studies conducted in Cameroon, Malawi and Uganda on the clinical, metabolic and immunological profiling of type 1 and type 2 diabetes in Africa and advances in the diagnosis of diabetes.

Dr. Katte highlighted in his presentation that unlike western countries, diabetes in Africa occurs in infants, youth, and adults with normal body mass index (BMI), and went on to recommend that all efforts by key actors should focus on the attainment of context-specific diagnoses and treatment to counter the ever-changing data on diabetes.

Dr. Jean Claude Katte delivering his conference presentation
Dr. Jean Claude Katte delivering his conference presentation

According to Dr. Nakanga, several Unit studies on diabetes, hypertension and chronic kidney disease in rural and urban Malawi identified a gap in context-specific training programmes to strengthen capacity among health workers in addressing the unique challenges of diabetes in Africa. His proposition,

"An innovative training programme to counteract the ever-changing nature of diabetes in Africa is critical to improving health care personnel' capacity to manage the disease, identify people at high risk, and prevent or delay the life-threatening consequences associated with diabetes.”

The scientists further highlighted the need for a responsive policy environment to aid in the systematic localization of interventions in diabetes. According to Dr. Kibirige,

“The development of diabetes treatment guidelines ought to follow an afro-centric approach that considers the unique spectrum of factors existent on the continent. As scientists and physicians, we need to know what causes diabetes in our environment, whether it is due to environmental factors, nutritional issues, pesticides, pollutants, chemicals or genetic factors.”

In addition, they called for more deliberate attention by physicians on public awareness and sensitization drives that address existing societal myths about diabetes medications, which are known to affect the uptake of appropriate health care mechanisms in Africa. Particularly, Dr. Niwaha called for a focus on medications that significantly reduce blood glucose levels, saying, “Patients should be regularly taught about the signs and symptoms of low glucose and how to respond properly.”

Research in the Unit’s NCD theme brings together our work on diabetes/cardio-metabolic disorders, mental health, violence, and disability, and includes epidemiology, genomics and social science approaches to understand why type 2 diabetes in Africa occurs in relatively young and lean individuals, identify appropriate approaches to preventing/managing diabetes in Africa, based on the distinct local manifestations, design and evaluate innovative interventions to tackle emotional mental disorders, particularly in the youth living with HIV, explore  both the influence of genetics on the risk of NCDs and their response to treatment and the social determinants of health and disease, violence, and access to health services for varied populations.

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