Diabetes supplies: improving access to essential medicines and technologies

September 27, 2015 by Helen McGuire, MHA

Medicines and tools needed to treat diabetes don't always get to the people who need them most. Here's what PATH's doing about it.

A woman puts a slip of paper in a bag.

PATH’s new project, supported by Novo Nordisk, is the first to look closely at the availability and affordability of essential medicines and technologies to treat diabetes. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczynski.

This year at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in New York, many of the world’s leaders and innovators set in motion a plan to tackle a set of ambitious global goals aiming to end poverty and improve the quality of life for all people.

These are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals. And although they are far reaching, they provide aspirational targets for focused and concentrated efforts that continue and expand on the great progress made through the UN’s previous Millennium Development Goals. One key expansion in the UN’s new goals is the addition of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, heart diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, and cancers.

While the UN’s past health-related goals focused on critical infectious diseases, the new goals rightfully reflect the double burden of both infectious and noncommunicable diseases faced by many low- and middle-income countries (LMIC). This is a critical expansion of the goals. In the next 15 years, NCDs are projected to become the leading cause of death in Africa and are currently the greatest cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide [Read the Global Status Report on NCDs, 2010, Geneva, World Health Organization, 2010. (143 KB PDF)].

Access and availability of essential medicines is critical

NCDs have the potential of crippling struggling healthcare systems. And while appropriate use of medicines can have a huge impact on reducing this burden, in many LMICs the essential medicines and tools needed to treat NCDs such as diabetes, simply aren’t getting to the people who need them. This lack of availability can stem from many causes—from procurement issues that can impact supply to taxes and unregulated mark-ups that drive up costs. It’s an issue the global health community knows little about, as national health surveys and datasets rarely include diabetes medicines and supplies.

Developing the call to action

This is where PATH comes in. Our project, No Empty Shelves: Diabetes Supplies, There When Needed, is supported by Novo Nordisk and is the first to look closely at the availability and affordability of the range of essential medicines and technologies to diagnose diabetes and prevent or delay the onset of complications.

The project includes a technical advisory committee composed of experts in diabetes, global health, and public health supply chain management. With their guidance, PATH will implement activities to generate new evidence and raise awareness.

PATH has also released the initiative’s first report, which describes the current landscape around availability of affordable essential medicines and technologies for diabetes, identifies the drivers that contribute to availability of these commodities, and presents recommendations for improving supply of these products.

A report cover with Diabetes Supplies as the title.

Download the report Diabetes Supplies: Are they there when needed? (1,445 KB PDF)

PATH will also conduct supply chain assessments, pricing, and availability studies of two countries with very different health logistics structures: Senegal, which is centrally operated, and Kenya, which uses a decentralized system.

At the conclusion of the project, there will be a cross-sector call to action to improve availability of essential medicines and technologies for diabetes and other NCDs.

This is an early, and important, step in responding to the ambitious goals laid out in the SDGs and in tackling the rising threat to health, productivity, and extended lifespans in Africa.

Editor’s Note: Helen McGuire, PATH’s director of Noncommunicable Diseases, joins a September 28 panel at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City entitled “Essential Medicines and Technologies for NCDs: The crisis of equity and affordability post-2015.” The panel discussion, organized by the Global Health Council and PATH with financial support from Novo Nordisk, features representatives from the International Diabetes Federation, Medtronic Philanthropy, Palladium Group, and the United States Agency for International Development.