On the eve of World Diabetes Day, November 14, the World Health Organization is launching a new initiative it believes will allow greater access to life-saving insulin at lower prices for a greater number of people suffering from diabetes.
More than 420 million people globally suffer from diabetes and are in need of insulin to stay alive. Diabetes, a disease that once mainly affected rich countries, is now most prevalent in low-and-middle-income countries.
There is an ample supply of insulin on the world market. But the medication is costly and unaffordable for most people in developing countries. The World Health Organization says it believes its first-ever insulin prequalification program will make the life-saving treatment widely available to poor people at dramatically lower prices.
The prequalification program is a tool for assessing the quality, safety and efficacy of a medicine. Emer Cooke, director of regulation of medicines and other health technologies at the WHO, says anyone who buys a WHO prequalified medication can be sure that the product is safe and effective.
“We hope that by increasing the number of quality suppliers of insulin there will be a broader price range to cater for less-resourced health systems," said Cooke. "We are also confident that competition will bring prices down. That way countries will have a greater choice of products that are more affordable.”
Three manufacturers control most of the global market for insulin. They set prices that are prohibitive for many people and countries. In the United States, the average price for a month’s supply of insulin is around $450.
In the lead-up to this launch, the World Health Organization collected data from 24 countries in four regions of the world. In some countries, the data show a month’s supply of insulin could cost between 15 and 22 percent of a worker’s take home pay.
Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death. It can lead to costly and debilitating complications, such as heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and lower limb amputations.
Overweight and obesity, as well as physical inactivity are major risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes. The disease is treatable with insulin and often preventable with a change of lifestyle that involves better diet and more exercise.