Africa at a Glance
Total population (millions)
Adult population (20-79 years, millions)
Diabetes and IGT (20-79 years)
Regional prevalence (%)
Comparative prevalence (%)
Number of people with diabetes (millions)
Regional prevalence (%)
Comparative prevalence (%)
Number of people with IGT (millions)
Type 1 diabetes (0-14 years)
Number of children with type 1 diabetes (thousands)
Number of newly-diagnosed cases per year (thousands)
Diabetes mortality (20-79 years)
Number of deaths, male (thousands)
Number of deaths, female (thousands)
Health expenditure for diabetes (USD)
Total health expenditure, R=2, (billions)


The health landscape of sub-Saharan Africa is dominated by poverty and a high burden of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and malaria. The continuing high burden of infectious disease tends to dominate the health policy agenda, despite growing evidence of the increasing impact of diabetes and other chronic non-communicable diseases in Africa. This is particularly the case within urban areas where the age-specific prevalences of diabetes, obesity and hypertension often approach or exceed those in richer parts of the world. As urbanization continues and populations age, diabetes is set to become one of the major health problems of the region. Even now it is estimated that at least 1 in 20 deaths of those aged 20 to 79 years is due to diabetes. The evidence suggests that children with type 1 diabetes often go undiagnosed, or if diagnosed do not have access to insulin, and die as a result. In 2009 the IDF African Region launched its action plan to tackle the escalating threat from diabetes.

Diabetes and IGT prevalence

There will be an estimated 12.1 million people, or 3.2% of the adult population, with diabetes in the African Region. There are marked differences between the rates of diabetes prevalence among different communities in sub-Saharan Africa. The highest prevalences are among the ethnic Indian population of Tanzania 1  and South Africa 2 . There is also a marked urban/rural difference in diabetes prevalence, with consequent likely increases as more people move to urban areas.

The availability of prevalence and incidence data for sub-Saharan Africa is very limited, with the result that data had to be extrapolated from distant and probably dissimilar countries and populations. There is, therefore, a great need for further epidemiological investigation in the region. Such a need can also be linked with the high proportion of diabetes that has not been previously detected, but found only at the time of surveying. Undiagnosed diabetes accounted for 85% of those with diabetes in studies from South Africa 3 , 80% in Cameroon 4 , 70% in Ghana 5  and over 80% in Tanzania 6 .

The impact of type 2 diabetes is bound to continue if nothing is done to curb the rising prevalence of impaired glucose tolerance, which now varies between 0.9% and 14.7% of the adult population. According to estimates today, the number of people with diabetes is expected to double in the next 20 years to 23.9 million in 2030.


More than 330,000 people are expected to die from diabetes-related causes in this region, accounting for 6% of all deaths in the 20-79 age group in 2010. It is significant to note that people in the 30-39 age group will account for the highest number at about 78,000 deaths. This age group will also have the highest percentage of deaths due to diabetes compared to other age groups (see Figure 3.1).

Healthcare expenditure

Estimates for the African Region indicate that about USD1.4 billion is expected to be spent on healthcare for diabetes in 2010, which would only account for 0.4% of the global total expenditure. It is projected that almost 60% of this amount will be spent on women. In general, this region is expected to spend the least on healthcare for diabetes compared with the other regions.

National Diabetes Programmes

Less than half of the countries that responded to the IDF member association survey had a national diabetes programme, and of these, only one-third had implemented the programme. Important areas that NDPs focused on included routine clinical care, community awareness, essential medication and supplies, and secondary prevention of complications.

Map 3.1 Prevalence (%) estimates of diabetes (20-79 years), 2010, African Region

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1: Ramaiya KL, Denver E, Yudkin JS. Diabetes, impaired glucose tolerance and cardiovascular disease risk factors in the Asian Indian Bhatia community living in Tanzania and in the United Kingdom. Diabet Med 1995; 12 (10): 904-910.

2: Omar MA, Seedat MA, Dyer RB, et al. South African Indians show a high prevalence of NIDDM and bimodality in plasma glucose distribution patterns. Diabetes Care 1994; 17 (1): 70-73.

3: Motala AA, Esterhuizen T, Gouws E, et al. Diabetes and other disorders of glycemia in a rural South African community: prevalence and associated risk factors. Diabetes Care 2008; 31 (9): 1783-1788.

4: Mbanya J. Personal communication. 2006.

5: Amoah AGB, Owusu SK, Adjei S. Diabetes in Ghana: a community based prevalence study in Greater Accra. Diabetes Res Clin Pract 2002; 56 (3): 197-205.

6: Aspray TJ, Mugusi F, Rashid S, et al. Rural and urban differences in diabetes prevalence in Tanzania: the role of obesity, physical inactivity and urban living. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg 2000; 94 (6): 637-644.