Biocon’s Founder and Chairwoman Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw has made a revolutionary decision to cut down the cost of insulin to 10 cents (roughly Rs 7) from the $ 5 (Rs 350) currently. This pledge was especially dedicated to the low or middle income countries including India, which recorded 72 million cases in 2017.

The rapid rise in the number of diabetes cases is a major health concern in the country, as it can lead to death and disability. In such a scenario, with the help of insulin patients keep their blood sugar level in check. Making a strong point here, Shaw, a philanthropist, argued that life-enabling product like insulin should be cheaper than what they are sold for now.

“Biocon will make its recombinant human insulin available at less than 10 cents per day in low and middle income countries. These countries contribute to 80 percent of the global diabetes burden. In comparison, the current US list price in retail is more than $5 per day or more,” said Shaw at UNAIDS Health Innovation Exchange in New York.

“My conviction is that a life-enabling product like insulin cannot be priced out of the reach of those that need it on an everyday basis, whether in the United States or in Africa,” Shaw was quoted saying by The Hindu.

The company has provided over 2 billion doses of human insulin worldwide, so far. At the helm of the Bengaluru-headquartered biotech firm, Shaw said that without major improvements in access of insulin to poor in the country, the concern has grown to be a bigger issue over the years. She said that her firm is “committed” to reducing the price of insulin “even further” through partnerships with agencies such as World Health Organisation (WHO). They aim to provide them to the countries which are “too poor to deal with the challenge of diabetes on their own”

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The widespread menace of diabetes

India has an estimated 8.7 percent diabetic population in the age group of 20 and 70 years, suggests a WHO report, which quotes obesity and over-weight to be the most important risk factors. Yet another report by WHO says that the number of people with diabetes rose from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, globally. The report further adds that diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke, and lower limb amputation. In 2016, an estimated 1.6 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes, while another 2.2 million deaths were attributable to high blood glucose in 2012.

Another study published in the ‘Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology’ journal, found that about 98 million people in India may have type 2 diabetes by 2030.

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Expert opinion: Access and affordability is key

“The skyrocketing cost of insulin over the past decade is noticable. It is huge in India. Poor don’t have access to medical facilities like those with insurance. I come from a certain lifestyle, and even for me, it was a struggle. When you are diabetic, you know you have to take insulin, there’s no skipping it and they are expensive. So if Biocon is offering accessibility at affordable cost, it’d be a great step forward. But will it reach the poor? What measures are we taking?” asks a former diabetes patient Raga Olga D’silva, who is a South Asian Ambassador for Diabetes in the UK.

D’silva adds that it is an absolute necessity to make insulin available, if possible for free. “In India people needing insulin lack access but also there’s another problem to consider- prevention. People are facing lifestyle issues. Improper diet or lack of awareness are some major problems in the country. We should focus on prevention as  well as cure. To solve these problems would be the proper approach to deal with this epidemic,” D’silva concludes.

What do Patients think

“Uncontrolled diabetes often requires insulin along with medication to maintain blood sugar levels. Since diabetes results in a deterioration of organs in the system, and medications are generally high priced, the reduction of cost of insulin will enable the low and middle-income groups with increased longevity,” says Mallika Ganguly, Diabetes patient and Retd DGM HRS, East BPCL.

“​Insulin is a lifesaver for many people who are suffering from diabetes. For some, it is not accessible though, especially the lower middle class and poor people. Reduction in the price of insulin will help people who do not take it regularly because they cannot afford it. Even for an average middle-class person it’s cost burns a hole in the pocket. I would suggest a reduction in price so that everyone suffering with diabetes can afford it and lead a healthy and stress free life,” says 27-year-old diabetic Deepika HR.
“Many diabetics avoid injecting insulin due to its unaffordability even if they are seriously affected by it. If sugar levels are not kept under control, diabetes can become fatal or seriously damaging eyes, kidneys, or lead to neuropathy etc. By slashing the price of insulin, BIOCON will give extra mileage of life to many. I am a solo senior citizen and managing medical expenses is an expensive ordeal. This cut will definitely help me budget my expenditure on insulin,” explains Amita Gala, senior citizen.

Feature Image Credit: healthline.com

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