Insulin: A Luxury in Haiti

Diabetes Mellitus (DM type 1), known also as Insulino-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM) or Juvenile Diabetes, is an auto-immune disease diagnosed most of the time during the adolescence years, and characterized by lack or no production of insulin by the pancreas. Insulin is the hormone responsible for entering glucose (end-product of sugar, carbohydrates, and starch) into cells and muscles. With a deficiency in the production of insulin, the body becomes unable to metabolize glucose, which results in having too much glucose in the blood. This accumulated glucose will damage cells and tissues, particularly in the eyes, kidneys, heart, etc.

As IDDM is due to a lack of insulin, the treatment for this disease is insulin (mostly synthetic human insulin). Whereas for the other, most frequent type of diabetes, DM type 2 or Non Insulino-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM), treatment may be done with drugs other than insulin.

In Haiti, insulin is very expensive, as are most medications in forms other than tablets. As a result, patients with IDDM have a hard time adhering to their insulin treatment. Yesterday, I’ve seen one of them, a 24 year old man, diagnosed with IDDM three years ago. He looked sick, weighted 97 lbs., and had an overactive skin condition. When asked about insulin, he told me that he had gone without it for the past three months, simply because he could not afford it. He is unemployed and has no financial support.

This young man’s situation is not unique. Many IDDM patients, living in Haiti, face the same ordeal to maintain their insulin treatment. One solution is to put together a national, coordinated network that will raise funds to buy insulin or seek donations of insulin from pharmaceutical companies. This network will enroll IDDM patients and provide them with insulin at reduced or no cost, depending on their financial situations.

Insulin is readily available in developed countries, but in poor countries, like Haiti, it’s a luxury. We need to make insulin accessible and affordable to all, so that our IDDM patients can continue to lead healthy and productive lives, and delay the heart, kidney, and eye complications associated with DM.