We are now 94 years after the discovery of insulin, and the hugely popular TV drama series Downton Abbey is giving us a window into the past by weaving that very discovery into its storyline.
For those who don't watch the show, or may have missed it:
With the fifth season just starting up here in the U.S. (after debuting across the pond last Fall), many viewers saw insulin get mentioned during the second episode in January. This fifth season takes place in 1924 -- just a few short years after the famed insulin discovery in 1921 by Drs. Frederick Banting and Charles Best in Toronto.
Our friends at Lilly Diabetes captured the essence of that scene in a recent blog post, describing how two characters talking over tea mention a "new drug" known as insulin, and one of them remarks: “Just think: a diagnosis will no longer be a death sentence."
Sadly, 94 years after that discovery, we're nowhere close to being where we should in terms of worldwide insulin access. And I'd bet that if Dr. Banting was alive today, he'd be very disappointed.
The stats tell us that at least half of the estimated 100 million people with diabetes worldwide who need insulin do not have access to it. As it stands now in 2015, we're still facing the unfortunate and unacceptable reality that roughly 1 in 5 children with type 1 worldwide will die because of this lack of access.
As many in our community have said so many times before: it's an outrage!
Studying Insulin Access
Hoping to do something about this worldwide problem, the Helmsley Charitable Trust has just launched a new worldwide research initiative with the Health Action International (HAI) “to identify the causes of poor availability and high insulin prices, and develop policies and interventions to improve access to this life-saving medicine, particularly in the most underserved regions around the world.”
Supported by a Helmsley grant of $1.25 million over the course of three years, this study follows up on past research in this area by the International Insulin Foundation, which leads the 100 Campaign aimed at expanding insulin access to everyone by the 100-year birthday of insulin's first availability in 2022.
The study is called ACCISS, short for “Addressing the Challenges and Constraints of Insulin Sources and Supply” and is led by Dr. David Beran from Geneva University Hospitals and Dr. Richard Laing from Boston University.
In the first phase, they have started mapping the global insulin market from different angles -- insulin manufacturers, volumes, prices, intellectual property issues, regulatory barriers and other barriers, as well as existing initiatives to improve insulin access.
The second phase will include actually visiting insulin manufacturers to assess their market reach, quality assurance standards and the types of insulin that they produce. The researchers will also assess national insulin supply chains to measure "add-on" costs such as duties fees, value-added and other taxes, mark-ups, rebates and discounts.
In the third and final phase of the study, results from the first two parts will be used to develop what's called "innovative insulin supply models," or policies and interventions to break down barriers to insulin access.
As the coordinators say: "This study into the inequities and inefficiencies in the global insulin market is both extremely important and long-overdue. We hope that the results—as well as the interventions that we put forward to eliminate barriers to accessing insulin—will result in more people with diabetes living longer, healthier lives."
Exactly! We are encouraged that Helmsley is investing in this, and look forward to hearing what comes from the research as HAI moves through the different phases.
Using Social Media for Good
Meanwhile, it’s great to the U.S. Diabetes Community uniting around this issue and doing what we can to make a difference.
Case in point: the Spare a Rose, Save a Child fundraising initiative going on right now as we approach Valentine's Day.
See our report on this from start of the effort in early February. Now there are just a few days left before Feb. 14, so it's crunch time.
By opting to buy just one less rose for a loved one on Valentine's Day, and instead donating the cost of that $5 flower, you have the chance to provide a full month's worth of insulin to a child in the developing world. All of the money is funneled through the International Diabetes Federation's Life for a Child program.
Note that in the kickoff year of 2013, the Spare a Rose campaign brought in over $3,000 in just a single week. Then during last year's two-week campaign, it garnered $27,265 from a total 24 countries, providing a full year of life to 454 children.
For 2015, our community goal is $50,000 in order to help 833 children.
The campaign mantra says it all: Flowers Die, Children Shouldn't.
I've already made a couple of donations myself in the past couple weeks -- one when I celebrated my 36th birthday on Feb. 1 because it wouldn't have been possible without access to insulin, and one when I was refilling my own expensive insulin prescription, which reminded me how fortunate I am.
With Valentine's Day just around the corner, we encourage you all to spread love not only among those near and dear to you, but to kids with diabetes in need around the world.
Spare a Rose adds to a number of other great help initiatives from the Diabetes Community, including Marjorie's Fund, Sucre Blue, the 100 Campaign, Insulin for Life, and the #Insulin4Life effort, a Tumblr-based social media campaign which we reported on last November on World Diabetes Day 2014.
That initiative’s founder (and fellow type 1) Elizabeth Rowley, who heads the non-profit T1 International behind the campaign tells us they’ve recently updated the #Insulin4All site to make it more relevant beyond World Diabetes Day; supporters are encouraged to post their own images.
They’ll continue connecting voices worldwide via social media, she says, and T1 International is currently recruiting Trustees and hopes to build a strong Board within the coming months that will help them work more closely with Spare a Rose and other initiatives down the road.
All of these efforts are making a difference, if even a small step at a time.
While it's great to see more type 1 awareness and insulin importance being weaved into the mainstream through Downton Abbey, it'd be even better to see more. From our end, it'd be great to see Downton Abbey take the next step and maybe even use the show's setting in the 20s, and recent "diabetes is not a death sentence" line as a tool for advocacy, to tell the show's viewers that we still have so much to do on this front 94 years after insulin's beginning.
Hopefully by the time we get to 2022 -- the century after the Banting and Best discovery -- we will finally be able to say that a diabetes diagnosis is NOT a death sentence.