WHO Calls For Expanding Access To Insulin At Launch of Global Diabetes Compact 

It is “unacceptable” that millions of people diagnosed with diabetes do not have access to insulin because of financial hardship – 100 years after the lifesaving medication was discovered.

World Health Organization Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was speaking at a Global Diabetes Summit that saw the launch of a new Global Diabetes Compact between governments, care providers, and patient advocates. 

The WHO DG said a key aim of the new compact, first announced last November on World Diabetes Day, is to improve access to comprehensive affordable and quality care, including insulin – as well as supporting diabetes prevention and other health sector measures to reduce the burden of diabetes-related illness and mortality. 

“Through this ambitious and much needed collaboration, we can prevent diabetes, save lives and move one step closer to the healthier, safer, fairer world,” said Dr Tedros, noting that diabetes is on the “rise globally and rising faster in low-income countries”.

“It is a failure of society and the global community that people who need insulin should encounter financial hardship to buy it or go without it and risk their life. This year has been a wake-up call. People living with diabetes are at an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, while diabetes care has been severely disrupted due to the pandemic. We must and can do better.” said Dr Tedros.

About 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, the majority living in low-and middle-income countries, and 1.6 million deaths are directly attributed to diabetes each year. Both the number of cases and the prevalence of diabetes have been steadily increasing over the past few decades

Launch of the Compact was led by a range of high- middle-  and lower-income countries, including Canada, Fiji, Norway, Singapore and Kenya.

More Needs to be Done to Protect and Save Lives

Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu

Patty Hajdu, Canadian Health Minister, said not enough was being done to deal with the diabetes pandemic and urged countries to share knowledge and foster international collaboration to help people with diabetes live longer and healthier lives. 

Her government is currently debating a bill in parliament  to provide a national framework to prevent diabetes and to support people living with the condition. The Canadian Institute for Health Research also continues to invest in ongoing research and innovation to break through barriers for people living with diabetes, and to understand the role that the social determinants of health play in both acquiring the illness and living and managing it. 

Canada has instituted measures that will directly and indirectly impact the incidence of diabetes, said Hadju. “Together we will make a difference. We will reduce the cases of diabetes and we will help people who are living with diabetes, live longer, healthier and save lives.”

The new Compact, said Ren Minghui, WHO Assistant Director-General, offers the world a second chance to change the course of diabetes management.

Current models of diabetes prevention and management have failed to provide equitable diabetes care to those in need, especially in poorer countries because of lack of reliable and affordable access to diabetes medicines, glucose testing and monitoring, he said adding: “We can and we must change this.”

Minghui said the COVID-19  pandemic is “shocking” reminder to protect people living with or at risk of diabetes. He urged the private sector to step up and provide “ immediate concrete solutions” to governments to help lower the price and improve the availability of diabetes medicine and essential technology.

Areas that needed urgent attention include access to diabetes diagnostic tools and medicines, particularly insulin, in low- and middle-income countries.

Global Diabetes Compact

Innovation is to be one of the core components of the Compact, with a focus on developing and evaluating low-cost technologies and digital solutions for diabetes care.

Minghui highlighted six imperatives of the Compact, including: 

  • Calling on everyone working in the field of diabetes to unite around inclusive and action-oriented narratives on diabetes prevention and treatment with ambitious yet realistic targets;
  •  Bringing together all the top tools and resources available for prevention and management of diabetes, both existing and new into one seamless package;
  • Accelerating prevention to help promote healthy living with a focus on reducing childhood obesity;
  • Working towards improving access to diabetes medicines and technologies in the poorest countries and humanitarian setting;
  • Ensuring that people living with diabetes have a seat at the decision making table and;
  • Aiming to close knowledge gaps and stimulate innovations related to technology.

Singapore’s Battle To Prevent and Treat ‘Invisible Disease’   

Speaking at the session, Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong said diabetes is an “invisible disease” and  major priority for his country with one in three Singaporeans expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime.

Singapore has launched a range of  programmes that seek to deal with the scourge of diabetes. These include grading and labeling of ready- to- drink beverages; banning advertising of beverages with high sugar and saturated fat content and promoting regular physical activity to maintain fitness and reduce obesity.

“We’ve built parks and fitness corners all over our island, and are happy to see them well used by joggers, cyclists and exercise groups, old and young. A national health screening program encourages Singaporeans to go for regular health checkups, in order to earlier detect the onset of disease, said Loon, adding that the island has optimised disease management, emphasizing prevention of complications for those living with diabetes.

“We’ve set up a Diabetes Center to bring together different specialists and allied health professionals. The center organizes care around the needs of diabetic patients and aims to raise standards of care, education, and research centers,” said Loong.

Kenya’s Recognizes Diabetes Dilemma 

Approximately 3% of the adult population in Africa is already living with diabetes.

A recent survey revealed that 18.3% of COVID-19 deaths in the African region were among people living with diabetes. Approximately 3% of the adult population in Africa is already living with diabetes. The prevalence is projected to rise to 4.4% by 2025, health experts say.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said he is pleased that one of the key objectives of the Compact is to enhance the capacity of health systems in lower-income countries to detect, diagnose, and manage diabetes. 

“We are realigning diabetes and other non communicable diseases, service delivery to make it easier for our people to access, quality health care based on need – and not the ability to pay,” said Kenyatta.

Image Credits: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld.

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