We are facing a global pandemic of diabetes made worse by the unnecessary lack of insulinby Jay Elwes / October 19, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Above: an insulin factory in Russia
There is a global diabetes pandemic. The disease already kills an estimated 3.2m people every year worldwide—more than Aids—and the numbers are set to rise dramatically. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), 285m adults had diabetes in 2010; by 2030, this will be 438m, or 7.8 per cent of the adult population. Diabetes comes in two varieties: type 1, which is congenital; and type 2, which can be brought on by factors such as lifestyle. According to the IDF: “type 2 diabetes constitutes about 85 to 95 per cent of all diabetes in high-income countries and may account for an even higher percentage in low and middle income countries.” Type 1 is predominant amongst the young in developed economies.
In 2009 Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the UN, warned that the disease no longer only affects the wealthy, but hampers “the people and the economies of the poorest populations, even more than infectious diseases.” He said it was “a public health emergency in slow motion.” At a recent UN high-level meeting called to discuss the global spread of non-communicable diseases, which include both types of diabetes, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the UN general assembly president, said: “The public health pendulum has swung too far, focusing too much on a few diseases, while denying attention and help to those who suffered and died from less dramatic but no less fatal diseases.”
As the incidence of diabetes rises, more insulin is needed to combat it. But the west overpays for much of its supplies, while millions in developing nations get none at all. That will place huge burdens on health services in both rich and poor countries. The strain has already reignited rows about how insulin is made and sold.
Diabetes mellitus is a disorder of the metabolism that causes blood sugar levels to rise. Small islet cells in the pancreas normally produce a hormone that regulates sugar levels, but in diabetics these islets do not function. Blood sugar rises and, without treatment, the patient will die.