PATH’s commitment: improve access to diabetes care for people worldwide

September 22, 2014 by Kathleen Donnelly and Helen McGuire, MHA

At the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting we announced our commitment to work toward making lifesaving diabetes medicines and technologies more available to people who need them most.

Chart showing 4 primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease.

This week, PATH begins a new Clinton Global Initiative commitment, in collaboration with Novo Nordisk, to help turn the tide of diabetes, one of the world’s most common and damaging noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). The effort, announced at the Clinton Global Initiative 2014 meeting in New York, is a first step toward making lifesaving diabetes medicines and technologies more available to people who need them most. We caught up with Helen McGuire, director of PATH’s NCD program, to learn more.

Why are noncommunicable diseases like diabetes in the global spotlight now?

Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other NCDs aren’t new, but in recent years, they’ve risen to become the greatest cause of illness, disability, and death worldwide. There are many reasons for this shift, but overall, people are living longer and their lifestyles are changing. Less physical activity and increased weight, smoking, and alcohol are putting more people at risk. Today, two-thirds of all deaths are caused by NCDs; a staggering 80 percent occur in developing countries. In fact, in the next 15 years, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that NCDs will become the most common cause of death in Africa.

NCDs exact an enormous toll. Because they so often hurt people in their prime—their years to work and raise children—they push families into poverty and reduce the productivity of their communities and countries. We also know that they compound the burden of other diseases, potentially eroding progress against HIV, tuberculosis, and other threats worldwide. It’s been estimated that by 2030, NCDs will cost the global economy more than $47 trillion dollars in lost output.

Chart showing 4 primary risk factors for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory disease.

Selected noncommunicable diseases and their shared risk factors. Graphic: World Health Organization.

What are global health leaders doing to stop NCDs?

I’m encouraged that we’re finally seeing an increase in global attention to NCDs. For instance, WHO’s new global action plan on NCDs calls for a 25 percent reduction in preventable death from NCDs by 2025 and an 80 percent availability of essential [NCD] medicines and technologies by 2020. And this year, the United Nations held a high-level follow-up meeting to review progress on NCDs since 2011, recognizing challenges and calling for continued commitment and accelerated action.

At PATH, our work to root out and address the causes of health inequality worldwide has put us at the frontlines of health for decades, so working with partners to intercept NCDs early on is a clear priority for us. Our NCD global strategy builds on our legacy of combating breast cancer and cervical cancer in low-resource communities. It focuses on innovation, advocacy, integrating NCDs into health care systems, and increasing the availability of essential medicines and technologies to improve lives.

How does PATH’s Clinton Global Initiative commitment fit in?

Our new diabetes commitment, led by PATH in collaboration with Novo Nordisk, is a great example of the innovative partnerships we’ll need to meet the WHO targets and other goals. It combines PATH’s leadership and experience in NCDs, Novo Nordisk’s expertise in improving diabetes care, and our shared commitment to accessible health care. Together, we’ll work to reduce preventable death and illness from diabetes by improving people’s access to essential diabetes medicines and technologies.

How did you choose this project?

An estimated 382 million people had diabetes in 2013; 80 percent lived in a low- or middle-income country. Yet crucial tools for diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring still aren’t getting to people in these areas. Imagine that your child desperately needs medicine, the local clinic or pharmacy is out, and there is nowhere else to turn. That’s a helplessness no parent should face.

We must make lifesaving medicines and technologies more available to health care workers and people living with diabetes. It’s the only way we can reduce preventable complications.

PATH is gathering the information to close the gap. We’ll begin by collecting data and taking a look at what we already know at the global level, and then work to uncover the root causes of poor availability in two low-income countries where rates of diabetes are increasing rapidly—Kenya and Nigeria.

Kenyan men, women, and children posing for a group picture.

PATH will begin work in Kenya and Nigeria, where the rate of diabetes is quickly growing. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

What’s next?

First, our goal is to recommend specific actions that national and global leaders, health care workers, and others can take to increase the availability of crucial technologies and medicines. On a global level, we’ll continue to put PATH’s NCD strategy to work to reduce preventable death by increasing access to NCD prevention and care. That means finding innovative ways to push new approaches and tools forward in low-resource settings; advocating to increase demand for NCD innovations; integrating NCD prevention and care with existing platforms; and increasing the availability of essential medicines and technologies.

More information