Overly expensive insulin could be a thing of the past – and life-changing news – for millions of diabetics under a plan launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday to diversify production globally.
The WHO says its first-ever insulin prequalification program will expand insulin access to low and middle-income communities around the world. The agency said that it had already had informal expressions of interest from pharmaceutical companies looking to produce insulin and have WHO assess whether it is safe for people to use.
“The simple fact is, that the prevalence of diabetes is growing, the amount of insulin available to treat diabetes is too low, the prices are too high, so we need to do something,” said Emer Cooke, Director of Regulation of Medicines and other Health Technologies at WHO.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres agrees.
“Diabetes damages health and undermines educational and employment aspirations for many, affecting communities and forcing families into economic hardship”, he said, particularly in low and middle-income countries.
The WHO’s two-year pilot project, in conjunction with World Diabetes Day, involves the evaluation of insulin developed by manufacturers to ensure their quality, safety, efficacy and affordability.
Data collected by WHO from 24 countries on four continents showed that human insulin was available only in 61 percent of health facilities.
In some countries, prices are so prohibitive that some people are forced to ration their insulin.
This leaves them susceptible to heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and lower-limb amputations.
Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death globally in 2016, the finding is only worrying because the disease kills people prematurely, said Dr. Gojka Roglic, WHO medical officer and diabetes expert.
“We all have to die of something and why not of diabetes – but (only) after celebrating our 90th birthday,” she joked. “The problem with diabetes is that it accounts for a large proportion of premature deaths – almost half of them occur before 70.”
In low and middle-income countries, the percentage rises to around 60 percent, Dr. Roglic added.