The Coronavirus or Covid-19 pandemic has raged through the entire world this year killing hundreds of thousands of people and infecting millions more. Aside from the obvious health effects, the pandemic has decimated economies and industries the world over and has pushed humans to try to find a new normal way of living.
For older people and those with underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension, the virus is especially dangerous. When people with diabetes develop viral infections, their body tries to fight the infection by releasing stored sugar into their blood stream to give them energy. However, their body cannot produce enough or any insulin to cope with this and so their blood sugars rise. Their body is now working overtime making it harder to manage their diabetes. This increases their risk of having serious blood sugar highs and lows and it can be harder to treat due to these fluctuations and the possible presence of diabetes complications such as kidney and foot diseases. Such people already have compromised immune systems, thus making it harder for them to fight the virus and lengthening recovery periods. Additionally, viral infections tend to thrive in environments of elevated blood sugar levels.
To portray the picture, here are a few facts obtained from countries that have been the hardest hit from the pandemic. Firstly, in China where the virus originated, people with diabetes had much higher rates of serious complications than people without diabetes when infected with the virus. The death rate also seems to be about three times higher in people with diabetes compared with the general mortality due to Covid-19 in China. Secondly, data from The National Health Service in England in May showed that for those hospitalized with Coronavirus, the risk of dying is higher for people living with diabetes than people living without the condition. Even here in Kenya, the Ministry of Health recently confirmed that of all patients with severe symptoms of Covid-19, up to 16% had diabetes.
The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) together with the world’s leading diabetes organisations acknowledges the dangers that Covid-19 poses on people living with diabetes and has thus shared guidance on high-impact prevention recommendations. The IDF estimates that there are 463 million adults worldwide living with diabetes and these people are characterised amongst the most vulnerable to serious complications and death caused by Coronavirus. While not everyone with diabetes has the same level of risk, the recommendations target broad changes in behavior from everyone in the diabetes community. It has been noted, though, that people with Type 1 diabetes are at a higher risk than people with Type 2 or other diabetes. The recommendations can be found at www.coronavirusdiabetes.org and are summarized below.
If you have diabetes, the following are recommended over and above the general recommendations on prevention of Covid-19:
Many diabetics control their blood sugar levels solely through diet and lifestyle choices. It is important for people with diabetes to eat a varied and balanced diet to keep their blood sugar levels stable and enhance their immune system. Consumption of foods with high levels of added sugar should be avoided as much as possible. Regular exercise is as important to stay fit and keep your body healthy. For obese or overweight people, body weight should be reduced through diet and lifestyle choices as high body weight is also an increased risk of death.
To give a practical idea of what someone with diabetes could go through whilst battling Coronavirus, I sought examples from my network. A friend of mine, I shall call him Sam (I have not used his real name for confidentiality purposes), and his father are both Type 2 diabetic. Sam is 30 years old and controls his sugar levels through lifestyle and diet choices. His father is 58 years old and is pre-diabetic and takes medication. Both of them tested positive for Coronavirus recently and shared their journey to recovery. They said the most important things to do as diabetic patients is to constantly check blood sugar and oxygen levels. Sam’s father was hospitalized as a precaution since his blood oxygen levels dropped to 90 (normal blood oxygen levels are 95 and above). Sam was able to isolate and recover at home. He stressed the importance of taking the right medical advice and not taking any medication that would lower blood sugar levels drastically as this could lead to further complications. The longest thing for both father and son to recover from was body fatigue which remained even after they tested negative and started to return to a normal routine.
We as Broadway Bakery are aware of the prevalent increase in lifestyle diseases in our society, which led us to carry out a survey to know more about lifestyle consumption habits of Kenyans. Hence, we embarked on a health campaign dubbed #BeSugarSmart in 2016 and went about sensitizing Kenyans on the dangers of consuming too much sugar. Our bread has always contained low amounts of sugar without compromising on taste. During this sensitization and awareness campaign, we have also been conducting regular and free screening for diabetes and hypertension around Kenya as we believe many Kenyans do not know their diabetes status. To date, we have screened close to 20,000 people across 15 counties. The prevalence of diabetes has been around 10% and of hypertension has been around 15% according to the data we have obtained. This means that close to 8 million Kenyans could be diabetic or hypertensive and thus at greater risk if they contract Coronavirus. As much as knowing your Covid-19 status is important, it is equally important to also know your diabetes status so that you can prepare yourself accordingly.
Even though there is currently no evidence to suggest that people with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes can contract Covid-19 more easily than people without underlying conditions, there is clear evidence to suggest that people with underlying conditions are affected more severely and are at a higher risk of death if they do contract the virus. It is therefore important to know your medical status and continue following the advice and guidelines given so as to have the best chance to survive this pandemic.
Devan B Shah,
Head of Business Development.