Background: In sub-Saharan Africa, diabetes is a growing burden, yet little is known about its prevalence, risk factors, and complications. To address these gaps and help inform public health efforts aimed at prevention and treatment, we conducted a community-based study assessing diabetes epidemiology.
Methods and findings: We conducted a stratified, cluster-designed, serial cross-sectional household study from 2014-2015 in the Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania. We used a three-stage cluster probability sampling method to randomly select individuals. To estimate prevalence, we screened individuals for glucose impairment, including diabetes, using hemoglobin A1C. We also screened for hypertension and obesity, and to assess for potential complications, individuals with diabetes were assessed for retinopathy, neuropathy, and nephropathy. We enrolled 481 adults from 346 urban and rural households. The prevalence of glucose impairment was 21.7% (95% CI 15.2-29.8), which included diabetes (5.7%; 95% CI 3.37-9.47) and glucose impairment with increased risk for diabetes (16.0%; 95% CI 10.2-24.0). Overweight or obesity status had an independent prevalence risk ratio for glucose impairment (2.16; 95% CI 1.39-3.36). Diabetes awareness was low (35.6%), and few individuals with diabetes were receiving biomedical treatment (33.3%). Diabetes-associated complications were common (50.2%; 95% CI 33.7-66.7), including renal (12.0%; 95% CI 4.7-27.3), ophthalmic (49.6%; 95% CI 28.6-70.7), and neurological (28.8%; 95% CI 8.0-65.1) abnormalities.
Conclusions: In a northern region of Tanzania, diabetes is an under-recognized health condition, despite the fact that many people either have diabetes or are at increased risk for developing diabetes. Most individuals were undiagnosed or untreated, and the prevalence of diabetes-associated complications was high. Public health efforts in this region will need to focus on reducing modifiable risk factors, which appear to include obesity, as well as early detection that includes increasing awareness. These findings highlight a growing urgency of diabetes prevention in this region as well as the need for treatment, including management of complications.