Low mortality of people living with diabetes mellitus diagnosed with COVID-19 and managed at a field hospital in Western Cape Province, South Africa

J-N van der Westhuizen, N Hussey, M Zietsman, N Salduker, K Manning, J A Dave, B Bulajic, T Ras


Background. The novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was declared an international pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020. Throughout the pandemic, the association between diabetes mellitus (DM) and more severe COVID-19 has been well described internationally, with limited data, however, on South Africa (SA). The role of field hospitals in the management of patients with COVID-19 in SA has not yet been described.

Objectives. To describe the mortality and morbidity of people living with DM (PLWD) and comorbid COVID-19, as well as to shed light on the role of intermediate facilities in managing DM and COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Methods. This is a single-centre cross-sectional descriptive study that included all patients with confirmed COVID-19 and pre-existing or newly diagnosed DM (of any type) admitted to the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) Intermediate Care Bed Facility from June 2020 to August 2020. This study presents the profile of patients admitted to the CTICC, and reports on the clinical outcome of PLWD diagnosed with COVID-19, and additionally determines some associations between risk factors and death or escalation of care in this setting.

Results. There were 1 447 admissions at the CTICC, with a total of 674 (46.6%) patients who had confirmed DM, of whom 125 (19%) were newly diagnosed diabetics and 550 (81%) had pre-existing DM. Included in this group were 57 referrals from the telemedicine platform – a platform that identified high-risk diabetic patients with COVID-19 in the community, and linked them directly to hospital inpatient care. Of the 674 PLWD admitted, 593 were discharged alive, 45 were escalated to tertiary hospital requiring advanced care and 36 died. PLWD who died were older, had more comorbidities (specifically chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive cardiac failure and chronic kidney disease) and were more likely to be on insulin.

Conclusions. In a resource-limited environment, interdisciplinary and interfacility collaboration ensured that complicated patients with DM and COVID-19 were successfully managed in a field hospital setting. Telemedicine offered a unique opportunity to identify high-risk patients in the community and link them to in-hospital monitoring and care. Future studies should explore ways to optimise this collaboration, as well as to explore possibilities for early identification and management of high-risk patients.

Authors' affiliations

J-N van der Westhuizen, Community Services and Health, City Health, City of Cape Town, South Africa

N Hussey, Department of Medicine, Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

M Zietsman, Department of Medicine, New Somerset Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

N Salduker, Metro District Health Services, Western Cape Department of Health, Cape Town, South Africa

K Manning, Department of Surgery, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, Cape Town, South Africa

J A Dave, Division of Endocrinology, Groote Schuur Hospital and University of Cape Town, South Africa

B Bulajic, Division of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

T Ras, Division of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

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COVID-19; Diabetes mellitus; Field hospital

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2021;111(10):961-967. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2021.v111i10.15779

Article History

Date submitted: 2021-10-05
Date published: 2021-10-05

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