This May, the World Health Organization (WHO) named its new Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Chebreyesus, the first African to ever lead the WHO. During his candidacy, he spoke powerfully about the challenges of people trying to survive with diabetes in low- and middle-income countries, including his native Ethiopia, where the Ethiopian Diabetes Association became the nation’s first patient-based association.
Today is World Diabetes Day, and the era when the disease was primarily a “wealthy nation” problem are over. In the developing world, we are witnessing a shift, where communicable diseases such as malaria are on the decline while chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes are on the rise. An estimated 422 million adults worldwide were living with diabetes in 2014, according to the WHO. Global prevalence has nearly doubled since 1980. Shockingly, nearly nine percent of the world’s adult population is now diabetic.
Rates are rising faster in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries. The greatest global increases are in Pacific island nations, followed by the Middle East and North Africa in countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, according to a 2016 study. American Samoa had the highest diabetes rate in the world, with more than 30 percent of the population afflicted.
Globally, more than 11 percent of all adults with the disease live in China. Meanwhile, Pakistan, Mexico and Indonesia – where age-adjusted diabetes rates have doubled – are all now in the top 10 countries with the highest percentage of cases.
Here in the United States, more than 100 million adults have either diabetes or prediabetes, a condition that often leads to type 2 diabetes within five years if left unaddressed. Diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in America in 2015.
In the face of these troubling statistics, the world’s three largest insulin makers and their foundations have stepped up to make significant contributions to expand access to treatment around the world.
Eli Lilly, which launched the first commercial insulin in 1923, made a $30 million commitment to combat non-communicable diseases – with a special focus on the diabetes epidemic in Brazil, India, Mexico, and South Africa. Lilly’s approach has focused on researching new models of care, sharing evidence-based findings, and helping to replicate and scale up best practices to help countries create better functioning healthcare delivery systems. The company has also committed to donate 800,000 vials of insulin to children and has created an educational tool to help people learn to manage diabetes in 121 countries. Additionally, Lilly’s BRIDGES program made a $10 million educational grant to fund research projects to create cost-effective interventions to help prevent and control diabetes in at-risk societies.
Novo Nordisk has committed $329 million to the World Diabetes Foundation from 2001 to 2024 for programs supporting diabetes treatment, prevention and special interventions with at-risk populations. The organization focuses on foot care so diabetics get treatment before amputation is necessary; eye care so health care professionals in 25 countries have the training they need to screen diabetic retinopathy and prevent blindness; and gestational diabetes in pregnant women to prevent adverse effects on the baby. Novo Nordisk also has a Native American Health Initiative that funds mobile medical units on reservations and provides scholarships for tribe members to be certified as diabetes educators.
Sanofi is working with Handicap International to target the diabetes crisis in Nicaragua, Philippines, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania. The goal is to improve the health care systems in these countries through community and school outreach; the training of nursing staffs; better epidemiological surveillance for diabetes; and improved care for diabetics with hemiplegia, vision problems and amputation. Sanofi has targeted diabetes prevention and treatment among its 34 multi-year programs that provide medical care for more than 1 million people and train 4,100 health care workers in 35 countries. Sanofi has worked through the International Diabetes Foundation to educate school children about diabetes prevention and management in places like New Delhi, India. Sanofi’s Foundation for North America has donated free insulin to serve more than 20,000 young people attending diabetes camps.
Diabetes is a global epidemic that requires an “all of the above” strategy to address. Promoting exercise and healthy diets will help stop the disease before it starts. Providing access to glucose testing in health settings will lead to earlier diagnosis and better care. Biopharmaceutical companies working in partnership with governments and medical professionals will help expand access to screening and treatment and improve local health care systems. There’s still much work to be done, and the biopharmaceutical industry will continue to utilize its resources, expertise and assistance programs to help patients and mitigate the impacts of this growing global health crisis.