How diabetes treatment is taking toll on Kenyan families

Duncan Motanya

Duncan Motanya (right) with the staff of Diabetes Management Medical Center, Pharmacy and Laboratory (DMMC).

Photo credit: Amina Wako | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • More than 420 million people live with diabetes globally; 4 in 5 of them live in low and middle-income countries.
  • An estimated 9 million people living with type 1 diabetes rely on life-long treatment with insulin for survival.

Diabetics in Kenya have urged the government to regulate the prices of diabetes drugs in the country.

This even as the high taxes on diabetes drugs continue making it hard for some patients to access treatment.

Consequently, the high cost of diabetes treatment is becoming too heavy a burden for many Kenyan families to bear.

Duncan Motanya, the Managing Director of Diabetes Management Medical Center, Pharmacy and Laboratory (DMMC) – a locally based online Pharmacy and Diabetes Care Center – said managing diabetes in the country is too expensive.

The 36-year-old certified diabetes educator started DMMC in 2013 when he lost his father to diabetes.

“We learnt about his diabetic condition in a very outlandish way. He had been involved in a motorcycle accident, which left a serious wound on one of his legs. We then took him for a medical checkup, and regrettably, he was diagnosed with diabetes after his sugar levels shot up,” Motanya narrates.

Motanya’s father was amputated and later on he succumbed to congestive heart failure, one of the conditions caused by a lack of proper management of diabetes.

The experience left Motanya’s family emotionally broken and financially drained.

“I sat back and began to research more on diabetes. The more I read about the disease, the more I discovered that there is more to it than just the treatment aspect,” he says.

Like Motanya, John Muloki has been a caregiver to his father, who had diabetes for the past 18 years, and in 2019 his wife Lucy Wawera was also diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Being the sole breadwinner of the family, Muloki says the treatment of the disease has been a financial burden to him.

John Muloki and Lucy Wawera

John Muloki (left), a caregiver, and his diabetic wife Lucy Wawera.

Photo credit: Amina Wako | Nation Media Group

“Even with the cover, you will still need to chip in most of the time. Treating and managing diabetes is very expensive because apart from medication, there is also the aspect of diet changes. Besides, most diabetics have other complications that have to be treated simultaneously,” he says.

Caren Simiyu was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was only 14 years old. To treat diabetes, Simiyu takes insulin shots twice every day, something she has done for the last 26 years.

Apart from the insulin, she has to do carbohydrate, fat, and protein counting, monitor her blood sugar frequently, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.

“Diabetes changes your life, apart from the medicine you will have to watch what you eat and also exercise, this is expensive. There also other complications whose treatment have financial implications,” she says.

According to David Musi, a Medical Officer at DMMC, some patients take three to four shots a day. 

“We have different insulin in the country for diabetes patients, and the prices range from Sh400 per pen/ cartridge to Sh3,000. This can be used for about 10- 14 days, depending on how many units a person is using,” Mr Musi says, adding that the prices have been increasing by 30- 40 per cent in the last 10 years.

Availability of insulin

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower-limb amputations.

In December, WHO published a report, Keeping the 100-year-old promise: making insulin access universal, which highlighted the alarming state of global access to insulin and diabetes care.

According to the report, the high prices, low availability of human insulin, few producers dominating the insulin market and weak health systems are the main barriers to universal access.

Diabetes is a significant cause of premature deaths and a major public health problem. It also imposes a significant financial burden on health systems and individuals.

More than 420 million people live with diabetes globally; 4 in 5 of them live in low and middle-income countries.

An estimated 9 million people living with type 1 diabetes rely on life-long treatment with insulin for survival.

Duncan Motanya

Duncan Motanya the Managing Director of Diabetes Management Medical Center, Pharmacy and Laboratory (DMMC).

Photo credit: Amina Wako | Nation Media Group

Among people living with type 2 diabetes, an estimated 63 million people need insulin as part of their treatment, but only about half are treated with it.

In 2013, WHO predicted that diabetes would rise to 4.5 per cent from 3.3 per cent in Kenya by 2025.

The report further reveals that insulins and associated devices are neither available nor affordable if available in many countries.

“One of the reasons for this may be due to the significant market shift in the types of insulin being used. Since the introduction of higher-priced insulin analogs in the 2000s, their use has increased in place of human insulin. While this trend has been observed initially in high and middle-income countries, it is now being seen in low-income countries. This shift is concerning for several reasons,” the report reads in part.

The report has recommended that insulin be made accessible globally through better policies and targeted interventions.

“This would have an immediate effect on the disease burden associated with diabetes and improve the lives of millions of people. Implementing such actions would allow the global community to carry on the legacy and goodwill of the discoverers of insulin and keep their promise that insulin belongs to the world,” the report read in part.

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