20-year-old Bagat Adshar, testing his blood sugar level with a glucometer in MSF’s diabetes clinic in Agok hospital. Photo by Musa Mahad
Press release |

MSF response to the World Health Organization’s launch of its ‘prequalification’ programme for insulin

3 min
Photo by Musa Mahad
20-year-old Bagat Adshar, testing his blood sugar level with a glucometer in MSF’s diabetes clinic in Agok hospital. Photo by Musa Mahad

Geneva, 14 November 2019 – The World Health Organization (WHO) announced yesterday it is launching its ‘prequalification’ programme for ‘biosimilar’ human insulins*, in order to evaluate and help accelerate the quality approval of more human insulin sources beyond those from the three main insulin manufacturers (Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi). This critical step will enable countries and treatment providers to confidently procure more affordable versions of quality-assured human insulin.

A number of factors, including challenging storage requirements for insulin, complex treatment protocols and – most importantly – high prices, all contribute to preventing people’s access to this essential medicine. Recent data on the cost to produce insulin shows that the prices people and health systems pay could be much lower than those currently charged by the three major insulin manufacturers: the cost to produce a vial of human insulin is US$3.35, or $72 per person per year. Prices for human insulin in Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) projects in the Middle East are four times higher. MSF expects the WHO qualified biosimilar insulin to be priced transparently and fairly – in line with their cost of production.

Quote by Dr Helen Bygrave, Chronic Diseases Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign:

“Human insulin remains one of the critical tools to treat people with diabetes in countries where MSF works, but we have witnessed the poor availability of this essential medicine and the devastating consequences this can have for people who need treatment but cannot access it.  

If insulin was discovered almost 100 years ago, why is it not more readily available to people who need it? WHO’s programme to quality assure more sources of insulin is a key step to break through some of the barriers that have kept insulin out of the hands of people who desperately need it.

We want to see all corporations – both originator and biosimilar – provide transparent pricing of insulin products that reflects what it costs to actually produce them.” 

MSF and diabetes:

MSF works in over 70 countries worldwide and in most of these settings, insulin is not available in public health facilities or private pharmacies. In 20 projects across 11 countries, MSF focuses on diabetes as one of the most common non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in people receiving care in our clinics. MSF currently provides insulin for 1,142 patients with Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) and 4,038 with Type 2 Diabetes (T2D). The majority (84%) of people receiving care for diabetes through MSF are in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, where refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria have required treatment and care. Projects providing care for T1D in African settings, such as South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania have been set up in response to patients arriving at health posts/ clinics in acute crisis, known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), due to lack of insulin treatment.

Read more about the challenges of treating diabetes in the blog written by the Access Campaign's Chronic Disease Advisor, Dr Helen Bygrave.