Now is the time to step up the fight against diabetes

As a growing body of evidence suggests that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people with diabetes, CEO and President of Novo Nordisk, Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen believes that now more than ever, the world must step up its response to the disease.

Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen

By Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, President and chief executive officer (CEO) of Novo Nordisk 
|  Published 27 May 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is a wake-up call for the world. But this crisis is not only about a virus.  It also exposes how vulnerable we are when a novel pathogen hits humanity – not least due to the rise in recent years of chronic diseases like diabetes. For while COVID-19 is a new disease and we still have much to learn about it, it’s becoming clear that people with diabetes are among those at higher risk of complications.

At a time of unprecedented scientific effort to find drugs and vaccines against COVID-19 – the need to defeat diabetes has never been more important and this should be a moment when we commit to step up the fight against the disease. Preventing as well as treating this chronic condition, and addressing the health inequalities that drive its growth, must be part of how we protect the health of our citizens, during and post this COVID-19 pandemic.  

The facts are stark

Diabetes has been on the rise around the globe, exacerbated by unhealthy diets, growing urbanisation and sedentary lifestyles. Unless societies change this trajectory, the number of people living with diabetes in the world is projected to increase from one in every 11 people today, to one in nine by 2045.  

Already, during the first two decades of the 21st century, diabetes  has become one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide. And it ruins more lives through related complications such as kidney disease, heart problems, blindness and amputations.

The arrival of this lethal new virus underscores the urgent need to help diabetes patients around the world: whether they are in low-income countries where COVID-19 could threaten the health system; or refugees in humanitarian settings; or people in wealthy nations who have lost their jobs and health insurance.

Our commitment to defeat diabetes

Novo Nordisk has always been guided by a commitment to create value for society, and a belief in the importance of collaboration as we strive to deliver on our purpose to defeat diabetes. And so, we are stepping up our efforts and joining with others to tackle the diabetes crisis at a time of profound need.

This builds on a mission that has been core to our business, from our origins nearly a 100 years ago when we began the production in Denmark of the revolutionary new drug insulin that had just been discovered by two Canadian scientists. And we carry this forward through the innovative medicines we develop and our continued focus to find new and better ways to tackle diabetes in the future.  

But we will need to do more. That is why we are strengthening our commitments as part of our new social responsibility strategy. Our long-term ambition is to accelerate prevention to halt the rise of diabetes, to provide access to affordable diabetes care to vulnerable patients in every country and that no child should die from type 1 diabetes.  

As steps along this journey, we are now expanding our programme to provide care and life-saving medicine for children with type 1 diabetes in low-resource countries. We are reducing the ceiling price of human insulin from $4 to $3 per vial in 76 low- and middle-income countries, which are part of the company’s existing Access to Insulin Commitment. And we are extending our programme with the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Danish Red Cross, supporting care for people with serious chronic diseases in humanitarian crises. In the U.S., we are expanding our patient support programmes, so that people with diabetes using our insulin who are now unemployed and/or who have lost health insurance coverage due to COVID-19 may be eligible for enrolment in our Diabetes Patient Assistance Program and may receive insulin free-of-charge for 90 days.

Not if diabetes can be prevented, but how

Pushing back diabetes requires global cooperation between governments, health stakeholders, business and civil society. Many organisations are deeply committed to this fight and we are proud to partner with them – from UNICEF working on preventing childhood overweight and obesity to the leaders from over 25 cities tackling the rise of diabetes in urban environments through the Cities Changing Diabetes programme.

COVID-19 – the greatest public health emergency in a century – has unleashed a response from scientists, healthcare professionals and governments that is unprecedented in its ambition. Intense collaboration on this scale is also required if we are to turn the tide on the rise of diabetes.

At Novo Nordisk, we stand ready to play our part. 

Learn more about our Defeat Diabetes commitments 


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Anette is an operator at Novo Nordisk Værløse, Denmark

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