Saturday July 13, 2024

Health experts call for local production of insulin: Insulin shortage last year caused extreme agony to Type 1 diabetics

The basic cause of insulin shortages was massive rupee devaluation against US dollar

By M. Waqar Bhatti
March 18, 2024
A health care worker conducting a diabetes test on a patient. — AFP/File
A health care worker conducting a diabetes test on a patient. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: Three severe insulin shortages last year caused immense hardship to around 100,000 Type 1 diabetics in Pakistan, with some developing irreversible complications and even losing their lives due to lack of this crucial drug, policymakers and health experts revealed on Sunday and urged authorities to ensure an uninterrupted supply of insulin in Pakistan.

The basic cause of insulin shortages was massive rupee devaluation against US dollar, compelling manufacturers and importers to call for an increase in prices. However, when the demand could not be met by the relevant authorities, they halted imports, resulting in extreme insulin shortages and hardships for patients.

Ironically, every insulin shortage cycle resulted in DRAP approving price increases and insulin prices increased between 20% - 45% from January 2023 to February 2024, exacerbating the challenges faced by the diabetic community during periods of unavailability. These issues were discussed at an interactive session titled ‘Insulin4All,’ organized by NGO Meethi Zindagi at a local hotel on Sunday, in line with the Global Day of Action for insulin4all.

Former federal and provincial health ministers, including Dr. Zafar Mirza, Prof. Javed Akram, Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Health Dr. Humayun Mohmand, doctors such as Prof. Abdul Basit, Prof Tasnim Ahsan, DRAP officials, CEO of Ferozsons Laboratories Usman Khalid Waheed, medicine expert Ayaz Kiani, biomedical engineer Dr. Amer Kashif, representatives from other local and multinational pharmaceutical companies, public health experts, and others attended and discussed the issue of insulin shortages in Pakistan.

Experts said persons with Type 1 diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes or juvenile diabetes, were those whose bodies did not produce insulin.

Unlike type 2 diabetes, which is often linked to lifestyle factors such as obesity and physical inactivity, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, known as beta cells. Former Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) Dr. Zafar Mirza said insulin shortage was a man-made problem and called for an action plan to address the issue.

He urged Meethi Zindagi’s Executive Director Dr. Sana Ajmal, to write a letter to the prime minister and cabinet members on the issue, urging them to intervene and implement the recommendations presented by the experts to ensure an uninterrupted supply of insulin to patients.

Senator Humayun Mohmand called for steps to produce insulin locally and advised local and multinational pharmaceutical companies to bring in technology and establish plants in Pakistan for production of insulin and other biological products.

Former Punjab health minister Prof. Javed Akram said the lives of Type 1 diabetics completely depended on the constant availability of insulin, as their own immune system destroys insulin-producing cells.

He deplored that due to poor economic conditions, the majority of patients and their parents could not afford to buy insulin for their entire life. “Unfortunately, hundred percent insulin is imported as not a single biotechnology plant has been established in Pakistan.

The only solution to ensure an uninterrupted supply of insulin is local production by establishing biotechnology plants, for which the government should offer incentives including free land and subsidies to the private sector,” he added.

Renowned diabetologist Prof. Abdul Basit said the unavailability of insulin was an emergency public health issue, as not only all the 100,000 Type 1 diabetics but also around 6.6 million type 2 diabetics required a regular supply of insulin to have a complications-free life.

Prof Tasnim Ahsan urged for mass scale awareness about the issue so that people and health professionals could take timely steps to address it.

Renowned Public health expert and medicines policy expert Ayaz Kiani said the availability and affordability of insulin and diagnostic tests for type 1 diabetes had to be dealt with by the government and the industry at a higher level and make exceptional policy and regulatory provisions. The present state of affairs is simply not acceptable, he added.

The Meethi Zindagi executive director thanked all stakeholders and experts for their valuable inputs on the issue of insulin shortages in Pakistan and vowed to forward an action plan, recommendations, as well as short, medium, and long-term solutions for overcoming insulin shortages in Pakistan.

DRAP officials Dr. Mahvish Ansari and Muneeb Cheema said the regulatory authority was trying its best to facilitate drug manufacturers and importers to provide crucial medicines in the local market and vowed to facilitate them in local production of biological products.