Skip to content

In South Africa, Diabetes has Already Reached a Crisis Point

4.2 million South Africans are living with diabetes, according to 2021 estimates from the International Diabetes Federation. The prevalence has more than doubled between 2011 and 2021 and is by far the highest in sub-Saharan Africa: by 2045, more than 7.4 million South Africans could be diabetic. The condition has been labelled a “defining disease of the 21st century” by the Lancet scientific journal, which warned in June that 1.3 billion people worldwide could be living with diabetes by 2050. For Nzama Mbalati, who heads Heala, a coalition of organisations advocating for access to healthy food, labelling diabetes as a “lifestyle disease” is problematic in itself. “The bigger problem is that we are living in a society where the food environment has been under attack for years. The fast-food industry has been targeting working and middle-class people,” he says. Heala has been pushing for large-scale nutrition awareness campaigns. In a “big victory” earlier this year, the Department of Health announced a bill that would impose warning labels on foods high in sugar and fat. A 2018 tax on sugary beverages has also shown encouraging results, bringing down purchases by nearly 15%.