Accessing Insulin in Developing Countries


NEW YORK, New York — The World Health Organization reports that, in 2014, diabetes affected an estimated 422 million people worldwide. In 2016, diabetes accounted for around 1.6 million annual global deaths. When left untreated, diabetes can lead to long-term health problems. Additionally, the chances of premature death are higher without treatment. Developing countries often face these outcomes as they often experience struggles accessing insulin.

Diabetes in Developing Countries

Reports indicate that the majority of diabetic people live in developing countries. By 2030, these countries will account for 78% of all diabetes cases in the world. In the past few decades, low and middle-income countries have seen the greatest increase in the prevalence of diabetes. This increase is a cause of concern because an inadequate distribution of medication and a lack of access to quality healthcare threatens the treatment of diabetes.

Early testing and diagnosis ensure better health outcomes for diabetic people. However, few primary health care facilities in low and middle-income countries have access to basic technology for diagnosing and managing diabetes. Additionally, many physicians lack the specific knowledge and experience to effectively treat patients with diabetes. The high cost of insulin compounds challenges, making it difficult for low-income households to afford insulin and other necessary care.

In Ghana’s capital of Accra, the amount of insulin needed for a month would cost a worker “the equivalent of 5.5 days of pay per month,” which amounts to 20% of their earnings. Insulin is unaffordable for those whose lives depend on it. In particular, Type 1 diabetics experience reduced life expectancy without insulin. Children with Type 1 diabetes in rural Mozambique face a life expectancy of just seven months without access to insulin injections, a figure equal to that in Britain in the pre-insulin era nearly 100 years ago. Thus, one of the largest barriers to accessing insulin in the developing world is the high price as only three companies manufacture most of the global insulin supply available.

The International Insulin Foundation

In response to the difficulties in accessing insulin in the developing world, the International Insulin Foundation has undertaken various projects to make insulin more affordable and educate people on its use in low and middle-income countries. The IIF is an organization working to improve access to insulin globally. As part of its work, IIF has carried out programs known as Rapid Assessment Protocol for Insulin Access (RAPIA) in Mozambique, Zambia, Mali, Nicaragua, Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan, to bring attention to the health barriers faced by people with diabetes in these countries and make diabetes management a priority.

The 100 Campaign

Most recently, the IIF launched the 100 Campaign, which aims for 100% access to insulin for all those who need it by 2022. The significance of achieving 100% access by 2022 comes from the fact that the year will mark the 100th anniversary of the first successful use of insulin to treat a diabetic patient. In 1922, the first successful insulin treatment was administered to a Canadian boy called Leonard Thompson. Insulin has since been used to treat diabetics across the world.

However, because many people in the developing world cannot afford insulin, an unfortunate number of people continue to die from diabetes today. With the 100 Campaign, the IIF hopes to bridge the gap between those who have access to insulin and those who do not, to ensure that everyone requiring this life-saving medication receives it in the necessary quantity.

Improving Insulin Access Globally

The campaign also seeks to address additional barriers to proper diabetes management worldwide. It plans to do this by targeting six main areas of “CHANGE”, which includes using existing critical resources, advocacy, tailored responses to local community needs and the empowerment of people with diabetes. The campaign, therefore, aims to improve struggles with accessing insulin in developing countries and the overall health of diabetics globally.

Emely Recinos
Photo: Flickr


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