Health

Many diabetics won't be able to get insulin by 2030 unless big changes happen

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For diabetics, insulin is a lifesaving medication, crucial to controlling the disease and preventing complications.

But access to insulin is already a major problem globally — and it’s likely to get worse over the next decade, according to a new study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

Global insulin needs are likely to surge by more than 20% by 2030, the study found. But, unless major changes occur, roughly half of the 79 million adults with type 2 diabetes won’t be able to get insulin, the authors concluded.

The study’s lead author, Stanford University’s Dr. Sanjay Basu, described the situation as a “looming health challenge.”

“Substantial improvements in access to insulin in low-income and middle-income countries are needed in order to reduce inequalities in access and complications of diabetes compared with high-income countries,” the study’s authors wrote.

Read more: In the age of Uber and Lyft, it’s still hard for some Americans to get to the doctor

Diabetes affects the way a person’s body processes sugar. The most prevalent type is type 2 diabetes, which usually affects adults but is more often seen now in younger individuals as well.

Insulin is crucial for both type 1 and type 2 diabetics. Type 1 diabetics’ bodies don’t make blood sugar-regulating insulin; without it, they will “die in a matter of weeks,” according to a 2016 Lancet study.

In type 2 diabetes, insulin helps control the disease and avoid or push back complications like blindness, amputation and stroke.

See: Non-diabetics are using diabetes technology to track their blood sugar and improve their health

The diagnosis of both types has become more common over the last 30 years, especially in low-income and middle-income countries. That trend is only expected to continue, with adults with type 2 diabetes expected to rise from 406 million this year to 511 million in 2030.

Some of the biggest percentage increases in diabetes over the next several decades are expected in Africa, the Middle East and north Africa and southeast Asia, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

But obtaining insulin has consistently been a problem due to problems with availability and pricing, according to the World Health Organization. (Insulin has also increasingly become out of reach for many in the U.S. due to rising prices.)

More insulin will also probably be needed to treat type 2 diabetics in the coming years as the population lives longer.

The study’s authors based their findings on a microsimulation that modeled the population of type 2 diabetics across the world and estimated how much insulin they would need. Type 2 diabetes incidence in upcoming years could be larger or smaller than expected, one of the study’s key limitations.

Previous studies have looked at insulin access problems in east and south Asia, but this study, published late Tuesday, came up with a direct estimate of expected global insulin use, the authors noted.

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