Diabetes, a disease that afflicts many African Americans and has served as an underlying factor in numerous coronavirus-related deaths, doesn’t have to be fatal if the diabetic leads a healthy lifestyle, experts say.
“People with diabetes should continue to monitor their blood glucose levels, eat the right foods, get adequate rest and exercise and check in with their doctor,” said Tracey D. Brown, president and CEO of the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed diabetes as a trigger to the coronavirus. The ADA has reported statistics that 4.7 million, or 18.7 percent, of African Americans are diabetic. In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health reports that Black adults are 60 percent more likely than white adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes by a physician. The department also reported in 2017 that Blacks are twice as likely as whites to die from diabetes.
Brown said the risk of significant harm or death from the coronavirus exists and should be understood.
“The data that we have so far, though incomplete, confirms what we already know-that this pandemic poses a greater threat to those suffering from diabetes and other underlying conditions,” Brown said. “One-third of American virus patients have diabetes, even though they make up 10 percent of the population.”
In the District, 80 percent of all deaths from the coronavirus are African Americans and 50 percent of those who died from virus had diabetes, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said at an April 29 news conference. The District’s statistics aren’t unique, said Brown, who noted that Black Chicagoans are six times more likely to get the coronavirus than their white counterparts.
Brown said 70 percent of coronavirus cases in Louisiana came from African Americans while they constitute 34 percent of the population and in Georgia, 80 percent of that state’s residents hospitalized for the virus are Black even though its African American population stands at 33 percent.
Brown said advocacy has become a key component in combating the pandemic. She said the ADA platform planks that tend to deal with African Americans are guaranteeing diabetics who lose their jobs don’t lose their health insurance as well, requiring a zero-dollar copay for insulin under Medicare Part D, reducing the costs of prescription medications and supplies and demanding more tests in underserved and minority communities.
Additionally, the National Medical Association has been active in monitoring the effects of the coronavirus, said Dr. Leon McDougle, president-elect of the organization, adding that Black diabetics have to be vigilant in monitoring their health given the widespread nature of the pandemic.
“Uncontrolled diabetes resulting in high blood sugars may weaken the immune system and result in more severe illness for COVID-19-infected persons,” he said. “Furthermore, coronary disease is more common in older persons with diabetes and COVID-19-related stress may also be a factor in untimely deaths. Therefore, telehealth visits with their primary care physician is important to help optimize control of diabetes.”
McDougle said the the association — the largest organization of Black doctors and surgeons — has held seminars on Facebook dealing with the coronavirus and its members have talked about the pandemic and Black health on such media outlets as C-SPAN and in Black newspapers.
Brown said her organization offers diabetics guidance on the virus through its website (diabetes.org/coronavirus), including a fact sheet, best practices, planning guides, legal advice and assistance. Brown said being there for diabetics during the pandemic serves as a goal for her association.
“We are here to help in any way we can,” she said.