Keeping the promise of a century ago – universal access to insulin details the main barriers to access to essential medicines, namely high prices, low availability of human insulin, a market dominated by only a few manufacturers, and weak health systems.
Profit over solidarity
Insulin is the foundation of diabetes care, and WHO works with countries and manufacturers to expand access to all who need it.
“The scientists who discovered insulin 100 years ago refused to capitalize on their discovery and sold the patent for just one dollar.” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the UN agency.
“Unfortunately, this gesture of solidarity has been replaced by multi-billion dollar businesses that have created huge access gaps.”
Diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar levels, which over time can cause serious damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.
Millions are missing out
There are two forms of the disease. Type 1 diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. For the nine million people with type 1 diabetes worldwide, access to insulin makes the disease manageable.
The most common form of diabetes, type 2, usually occurs in adults. This happens when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin.
More than 60 million people living with type 2 diabetes require insulin to reduce the risk of kidney failure, blindness and amputation, according to WHO. However, every second person in need of medicine does not receive it.
While diabetes is on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, insulin consumption has not kept pace with the growing burden of disease.
Although three out of four people with type 2 diabetes live outside North America and Europe, they account for less than 40% of insulin revenues.
Eliminating the insulin gap
The report outlines measures to improve access to insulin and related products.
Actions include increasing the production and supply of human insulin, and diversifying the production of biosimilar products to create competition and lower prices.
The WHO explained that global markets have moved from human insulin, which can be produced at a relatively low cost, to more expensive synthetic insulins, which can be three times as expensive.
The UN agency called for increased affordability through price regulation and premiums through pooled procurement and greater price transparency, as well as the development of local productive capacity in underserved regions.
Dialogue brings results
At the same time, research and development (R&D) should focus on the needs of low- and middle-income countries, and increased access to insulin should be accompanied by prompt diagnosis, along with access to affordable devices for injecting drugs and blood sugar monitoring. …
WHO has worked with industry to remove some of the barriers to the availability of insulin, related drugs and technologies through dialogues with business associations and manufacturers.
This has led to a number of industry commitments that range from developing a policy plan to improve access to biosimilars of insulin to participating in the WHO insulin prequalification program, glucometers, test strips and diagnostic tools.