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Merck launches South Africa’s first diagnosis and management programme for diabetes

Early detection of diabetes and treatment among South Africans has been enhanced with the launch of the Diabetes Online Risk Assessment (DORA) program in South Africa. DORA is a nationwide initiative that supports diabetes patients through screening, diagnosis and treatment, as well as ongoing disease management.

The DORA programme is the first of its kind in South Africa and was launched in response to the growing number of patients diagnosed with diabetes in the late stages of the disease. The programme will cover 11 African countries, including South Africa. It has already been introduced in Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana and will be launched this year in Mauritius, Namibia, Botswana, Tanzania, Uganda, Angola and Mozambique.
The World Health Organisation predicts that between now and 2020 the fastest increase in non-communicable disease-related deaths in the world will occur in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It is further predicted that, by 2030, such deaths will account for 42% of those in SSA, surpassing the figure for infectious diseases.
“This is a challenge to all African economies, as governments (and as is the case in South Africa’s medical aid schemes) foot the bill for diabetes and its related costs. Late diagnosis can result in hospitalisation, require multiple treatments for consequential health problems, such as blindness or kidney failure, not to mention the economic cost of being unable to work”, says Sandra Lambert, Merck’s Regional Director, Cardio Metabolic Care & General Medicines, South East Africa.
“The reality is that in many parts of Africa there is no national intervention (as a single initiative) that tackles diabetes from risk assessment to living with the disease. This programme is meant to support countries in filling that gap between screening, diagnosis, treatment and management of diabetes. It leverages mobile technology and local partnerships to drive a message of early detection,” says Lambert.
Recent research conducted on diabetes estimated that there were 22 million cases of diabetes in Africa in 2013, a figure expected to climb by 110% by 20351. Africa’s mortality rate as a result of diabetes and related complications ranks highest in the world2, and with 62% of diabetes patients remaining undiagnosed, sufferers are more susceptible to permanent tissue damage as well as a deterioration in quality of life.
According to Jeanette Hunter, Deputy Director-General of Primary Healthcare at the South Africa’s Department of Health, “Research indicates that more than half of those with these diseases are unaware that they are affected. Screening as many people as possible (especially those at higher risk) is hence a critical part of our strategy to increase life expectancy and reduce premature deaths from non-communicable diseases.”
“A conservative estimate is that 7% of South African adults have diabetes, however, this figure is expected to increase with urbanisation, unhealthy lifestyles and rising levels of obesity. As symptoms of diabetes may not be noticed by the patient in the early stage of their disease, screening and education at this point is crucial,” says Dr Darshni Naicker, Merck Biopharma’s Medical Director for South East Africa. “Whilst people are certainly aware of diabetes, many neglect to undergo screening until symptoms which affect their quality of life are visible. At this late stage, the irreversible effects of macro- and micro-vascular complications may be present, which require additional treatment”.
The DORA programme commences with a free Online Risk Assessment service where individuals answer a web-based questionnaire to determine the patient’s risk of developing diabetes. Anyone with access to the internet or a smart device can take the questionnaire.
Based on their answers, the platform gives each individual a rating from low risk to high risk. Moderate and high-risk patients are provided with a voucher for a free blood-glucose test, redeemable at pharmacies nationwide registered with the programme.
Where the patient’s blood test indicates diabetes, they will be given a ‘diabetes starter pack’ to help manage the disease at home. The pack includes ACCUCHEK glucometers (provided by Roche), DIABION diabetic multi-vitamins (provided by Merck Consumer Health), diabetes patient information, including a Glycemic Index (GI) food guide, as well as the free diabetes management app, MyDiabetes.
Merck’s DORA initiative is driven through pharmacies nationwide and Merck calls on all pharmacies (corporate and independent) to register with the DORA program. The Merck DORA program is currently available through all Pick n Pay pharmacies in South Africa. The Merck DORA program is available to all pharmacies and those that wish to register can consult their local Merck representative or register through the Merck DORA website (
The launch event was attended by pharmacists and diabetic nurse educators from all over South Africa who hailed the unique and comprehensive program. The participants were also trained on diabetes management.
Merck will also be working closely with the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE), a South African organisation specialising in diabetes counselling and management.

1IDF (International Diabetes Federation) Atlas 2012

2IDF Atlas 2012

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