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WHO Launches Initiative To Cut Insulin Prices, Boost Its Access For Diabetics

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a pilot program to pre-qualify human insulin to increase treatment for diabetes in low- and middle-income countries.

The initiative is aimed to reduce prices and increase access for insulin, the life-saving vital treatment for diabetics, which is costly.

The decision, announced on the eve of World Diabetes Day, is part of a series of steps WHO will take to address the growing diabetes burden in all regions of the world. The UN health agency estimates that about 65 million people with type 2 diabetes need insulin, but only half of them are able to access it, largely due to high prices.

More than 420 million people live with diabetes, according to WHO. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death and a major cause of complications such as heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and lower limb amputations.

People with type 1 diabetes need insulin for survival and to maintain their blood glucose levels. People with type 2 diabetes need insulin for controlling blood glucose levels to avoid complications when oral medicines become less effective as the illness progresses.

"WHO's pre-qualification initiative for insulin is a vital step towards ensuring everyone who needs this life-saving product can access it," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO.

Despite in ample supply, insulin prices are currently a barrier to treatment in most low- and middle-income countries. Three manufacturers control most of the global market for insulin, setting prices that are not affordable to the poor.

WHO said that data collected during 2016-2019 from 24 countries showed that human insulin was available only in 61 percent of health facilities and analogue insulin in 13 percent.

"Prequalifying products from additional companies will hopefully help to level the playing field and ensure a steadier supply of quality insulin in all countries," says Dr Mariângela Simão, Assistant Director General for Medicines and Health products.

WHO said that before launching the pre-qualification process, it would need to evaluate a range of candidate products, a process that is expected to take around two years.

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