Diabetes: challenges of access to insulin


Diabetes: Three dangerous myths that are hurting patients

As with many global healthcare issues, the challenges faced by diabetic people living through humanitarian crises are not inevitable. In fact, it’s often profit-driven policies that stand in the way of accessing treatment.

“I would only inject a little bit of the prescription so that we could reserve it for another day.”

This was life for Viola Makore, a young woman from Mutare in Zimbabwe, before she came to MSF for treatment for type 1 diabetes. Viola was diagnosed in 2014. Her body can’t make the insulin needed to get sugar from her bloodstream into cells for energy, so a daily insulin replacement is vital. Without insulin, Viola will become severely unwell within days, and possibly die.

Dying before diagnosis

Viola’s story is not unusual. Across sub-Saharan Africa and in many other places, children and adults diagnosed with diabetes often cannot afford to buy insulin and the other equipment needed to manage their condition and stay well and healthy. Many are simply dying before being diagnosed.

Just one dollar for the patent

The scientists who first discovered insulin in 1921 decided to sell the patent on their new discovery for just US$1 so that anyone who needed it could have it. But fast forward a century, and around one in every two people in the world who needs insulin today can’t get it because it’s either too expensive or unavailable, or both, risking serious complications and death. We are working with others to change this and bring down the price of insulin.

Cost vs price

The cost of producing insulin is much lower than the prices charged, which put this lifesaving medicine beyond the reach of many people in need.

Increasing access to treatment for people with diabetes

At the MSF Access Campaign, we are working to improve access to treatment for people living with diabetes, by: 

  • Increasing competition in the insulin market 
  • Reducing the cost of the diabetes treatment 'bundle'
  • Advocating to ensure WHO and national policies support access to diabetes care

Three things to know about access to insulin