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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Prevalence and correlates of diabetes mellitus in Malawi: population-based national NCD STEPS survey

Kelias Phiri Msyamboza12*, Chimwemwe J Mvula3 and Damson Kathyola3

Author Affiliations

1 World Health Organisation, Malawi Country Office, City Centre, P.O. Box 30390, Lilongwe 3, Malawi

2 University of Malawi, College of Medicine, Community Health Department, Lilongwe, Malawi

3 Ministry of Health, Lilongwe, Malawi

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BMC Endocrine Disorders 2014, 14:41  doi:10.1186/1472-6823-14-41

Published: 12 May 2014



Previously considered as a disease of the affluent, west or urban people and not of public health importance, diabetes mellitus is increasingly becoming a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. However, population-based data to inform prevention, treatment and control are lacking.


Using the WHO STEPwise approach to chronic disease risk factor surveillance, a population-based, nationwide cross-sectional survey was conducted between July and September 2009 on participants aged 25–64 years. A multi-stage cluster sample design and weighting were used to produce a national representative data for that age range. Detailed findings on the magnitude of diabetes mellitus and impaired fasting blood glucose are presented in this paper.


Fasting blood glucose measurement was conducted on 3056 participants (70.2% females, 87.9% from rural areas). The age- sex standardised population-based mean fasting blood glucose was 4.3 mmol/L (95% CI 4.1-4.4 mmol/L) with no significant differences by age, sex and location (urban/rural). The overall prevalence of impaired fasting blood glucose was 4.2% (95% CI 3.0%-5.4%). Prevalence of impaired blood glucose was higher in men than in women, 5.7% (95% CI 3.9%-7.5%) vs 2.7% (95% CI 1.6%- 3.8%), p < 0.01. In both men and women, prevalence of raised fasting blood glucose or currently on medication for diabetes was 5.6% (95% CI 2.6%- 8.5%). Although the prevalence of diabetes was higher in men than women, 6.5% (95% CI 2.6%-10.3%) vs 4.7% (95% CI 2.4%-7.0%), in rural than urban, 5.4% (95% CI 2.4%-8.4%) vs 4.4% (95% CI 2.8%-5.9%) and in males in rural than males in urban, 6.9% (95% CI 2.8%-11.0%) vs 3.2% (95% CI 0.1%-6.3%), the differences were not statistically significant, p > 0.05. Compared to previous estimates, prevalence of diabetes increased from <1.0% in 1960s to 5.6% in 2009 (this study).


High prevalence of impaired fasting blood glucose and diabetes mellitus call for the implementation of primary healthcare approaches such as the WHO package for essential non-communicable diseases to promote healthy lifestyles, early detection, treatment and control.

Diabetes; Non-communicable diseases; Sub-Saharan Africa; Malawi