Diabetes Now Kills More People in South Africa Than HIV
The country's near-total focus on HIV over the past 15 years has saved countless lives but starved other diseases of resources.
Sep 11 2017, 2:00pm
It was in late 2016 that Goodman Gwala noticed an itch on his left foot. His local clinic in Inanda, a township in Durban, South Africa, gave him bone-chilling news. "The doctor told me: 'Your toes are rotten, Goodman, there's nothing we can do. We have to take this thing out.'"
In April, doctors amputated half of Gwala's left foot to halt the source of the itch—a gangrenous ulcer caused by diabetes. If caught early and treated carefully, such wounds can heal. But in South Africa, where diabetes is an overlooked condition, many seek help too late. Type 2 diabetes, which is what Gwala has, can often be prevented by a healthy lifestyle. But his job as a supermarket baker put him in the way of too much temptation. "I used to make birthday cakes, donuts…Most of the time I was eating them," he says.
Today the 51-year-old has given up sweet cakes and sugary drinks, but the damage is already done. "My life is difficult. It's not like before," he says. He rarely goes out, as it hurts to be on his crutches too long. Mostly, he sits at home watching TV. He survives on a meager disability grant of R4,000 a month—around $310—and he reckons he'll never work again. He hopes retirement age will bring more money—enough to build a bigger house for himself and his young son.
Gwala's illness is one case among more than 2 million South African adults who were shown to have diabetes in 2015 (t