Diabetes menace: Lack of access to insulin and preference of foreign brands making situation worse

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Published: June 14, 2019 8:07:08 PM

By 2035, the number of people with diabetes in India is expected to increase by 70%, pointing to the possibility of a serious epidemic that triggers an urgent need for anti-diabetic medicines and insulin therapy.

India has the second largest diabetes burden in the world.

Diabetes is a much dreaded word in India. Wondering what is the percentage of diabetic patients in India? Or how many people are suffering from diabetes in India? As you probably know, India has the second largest diabetes burden in the world. In 2015, WHO indicated that India had around 69.2 million diabetics. For those of you wondering which state in India has more diabetes, the answer is Kerala, followed by Tamil Nadu and Punjab.

By 2035, the number of people with diabetes in India is expected to increase by 70%, pointing to the possibility of a serious epidemic that triggers an urgent need for anti-diabetic medicines and insulin therapy.

According to the findings of a research paper published in British Medical Journal Global Health, one in two people who require insulin lack access to it. While the research paper has indicated some notable pointers for diabetics in India, note that their survey is based on their findings in Delhi.

Of the 40 interviewed pharmacists based in Delhi, it is pertinent to note that 60% offered discounts of up to 10% on insulin products.

A notable point by pharmacists is that while doctors prescribed insulin by brand name, the patients demonstrated their trust of foreign company products and clearly indicated that they did not want to buy insulin products made for Indian companies.

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In the research paper, a Delhi pharmacist has been cited as saying, ” I do not want to stock insulin anymore as doctors are directly selling free samples at discounts on print price. Patient are losing trust in pharmacists as they think we sell more expensive than doctors.”

Further, the uptake of such insulin products also depends on a patient’s purchasing capacity, which doctors consider while prescribing a medicine. The patient’s perception of quality of the medicine is another factor that comes into play.

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The wholesalers conveyed that price capping by India’s National Pharmaceutical Pricing authorities could be one of the reasons why Indian companies are not faring well in the insulin market.

In addition, it has been found that consumers paid an extra 16%-128% over and above the insulin import prices. This can be attributed to several variables such as taxes, supply chain margins, mark ups and other costs.

A worrying concern is that doctors and patients believe that insulin from foreign companies is better. As a result, they do not trust Indian brands.

To make matters worse, some doctors, wholesalers and manufacturers are selling insulin directly to patients. The implications of this are adverse for pharmacists, who can now either choose whether to stock or not as it is mostly expensive insulin that guarantee some profit.

For the well being of diabetes patients, it is imperative to put into place specific policies that allow brand substitution to be able to benefit from market competition. This, in turn, can improve access to proper and affordable insulin therapy in India.

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