Diabetic patients in Cameroon are facing a severe shortage of insulin. Concerns are rising that many could end up dying if they don’t get the drug. The government has put the blame on the pharmaceutical supply chain.
Although the Cameroonian government claims it has huge quantities of insulin, a drug that helps keep the sugar level from getting too high or too low, pharmacies said they had little stock left of the medicine.
When found, patients told DW that the prices had increased tremendously. The association of diabetic patients in Yaoundé says several members have died and many more could suffer the same fate if they don’t receive insulin.
Engolo Etienne, 54, is one of the patients who succumbed to the illness. According to his elder brother, Engolo Reuben, Etienne died at Yaoundé’s central hospital after developing a nerve damage from his type 1 diabetes because he did not have access to the right medication.
“During our stay in the hospital, we had hopes that he would recover, but suddenly he could no longer drink or eat. He had problems around his neck and finally he just passed away. Drugs were prescribed but at times what was given was not what we usually expected,” Reuben told DW in an interview.
Reuben, who also suffers from diabetes, believes that many patients like him may die due to a shortage of the life-sustaining insulin. His statement was echoed by Rita Tchuente head of the association of people living with diabetes in Yaounde.
“Those selling [the drugs] do not give explanations. When you show your doctor’s prescription, they tell you the drugs are not available and then you have to search in other pharmacies around town”, Tchuente said.
She also said most patients often return to the hospital without the required medication. “Please do something for us,” Tchuente pleaded.
Broken supply chain
Drugs in Cameroon are supplied by the drug agency called CENAME. Joseph Vaillam, CENAME’s Director General says the shortage may be due to some dysfunction in the supply chain.
“CENAME is like a central unit that receives the medication from foreign countries because insulin is not produced in Cameroon,” Vaillam said. ‘‘We then proceed by distributing to statutory clients as defined by the ministry of health.” According to Vaillam, Cameroon’s Ministry of Health is the only organ in the country that has access to insulin provided by CENAME.
Cameroon reported 700,000 cases of diabetes in 2017, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 190 million people suffer from diabetes worldwide.
By 2025, the figure might rise to about 330 million patients as the disease is becoming one of Africa’s biggest health challenges.
People with diabetes have to rely on insulin for the rest of their lives. Being overweight and leading sedentary lifestyles can lead to diabetes. However, patients can improve their general condition by turning to a healthy diet and committing themselves to regular exercise. There is no known cure for diabetes and if left untreated it can kill.