Global Report Maps Barriers to Insulin Availability

ADDIS ABABA – High prices, low availability of human insulin, few producers dominating the insulin market are the main barriers to universal access, says a new report highlights the alarming state of global access to insulin and diabetes care.

The UN health agency, WHO, released the report today in the lead-up to World Diabetes Day and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin.

The report says insulin is the bedrock of diabetes treatment – it turns a deadly disease into a manageable one for nine million people with type 1 diabetes.
It is also essential in reducing the risk of kidney failure, blindness and limb amputation for over 60 million people living with type 2 diabetes.

However, one out of every two people needing insulin for type 2 diabetes does not get it, according to the report.

The UN health agency said diabetes is on the rise in low- and middle-income countries, and yet their consumption of insulin has not kept up with the growing disease burden.

Its report highlights that while three in four people affected by type 2 diabetes live in countries outside of North America and Europe, they account for less than 40% of the revenue from insulin sales.

The report spotlights the main causes for the gaps in global access to insulin.

The global market shift from human insulin, which can be produced at relatively low cost, to the pricier analogues or synthetic insulins is imposing an untenable financial burden on lower-income countries, according to the report.

“In general, human insulin is as effective as analogues, but analogues are at least 1.5 times more expensive than human insulin,” it says.

The report also finds three multinational companies control more than 90% of the insulin market, leaving little space for smaller companies to compete for insulin sales.

The pricing landscape is uneven and reveals a lack of transparency in the way prices are set, says the report.

For example, biosimilar insulins or essentially generic versions could be more than 25% cheaper than the originator product, but many countries, including lower-income ones, are not benefiting from this potential saving, according to the report.

To improve access to insulins, the report suggests diversifying the manufacturing base for biosimilar analogue insulins to create competition and reduce prices; regulating prices, and promoting local manufacturing capacity in under-served regions.