Why we must do more to tackle chronic disease in humanitarian crises

With the global refugee crisis intensifying, President and chief executive officer of Novo Nordisk, Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen reflects on the challenge of providing access to care among vulnerable populations displaced by conflict


Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen

By Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen; President and chief executive officer (CEO) of Novo Nordisk 
|  Published 18 April 2018

Today, more than 65 million people have been displaced by conflict or persecution - the largest number since World War II. More broadly, over half a billion people live in fragile and conflict-affected situations. Such is the nature of modern media, we regularly see humbling scenes that depict the many hardships and challenges faced by these populations. Among these, the threat of chronic disease is not the most visible, but its existing heavy burden is growing and immediate action is required.

For people living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in refugee camps and other humanitarian settings, the risk of them worsening their chronic condition is increased 2-3 fold. Their vulnerability is heightened since they require continuous treatment and access to care – the very things that can be in jeopardy in humanitarian crises. Without this, many suffer complications that would normally be avoidable but that are disabling or life threatening if left untreated.

Partnering for change

It was with these vulnerable people in mind that we entered into conversation with the Red Cross and that today we together announce a partnership to tackle NCDs in humanitarian crises. The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement sees the growing burden of NCDs in its operations first-hand. Consider for example the estimate that diabetes is the cause of one in four limb amputations in patients at Red Cross Physical Rehabilitation Centres in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. It is with very good reason that they class these conditions as a priority alongside more traditional services such as the treatment of infectious diseases and war-surgery.

Together we will work to improve the efficiency in the provision of insulin to people in humanitarian crises and implement health programmes and projects to improve NCD prevention and care. As part of this partnership, we will supply low-cost human insulin to Red Cross operations. Such dispatches have already been made to Yemen and Eastern Ukraine. We are also adapting our ordering and production procedures so we can better serve the needs of humanitarian organisations, and in future we will be sharing our knowledge on handling cold chain management and storage with our partners.


Russia Hassan Ahmed lives with diabetes in Faj Attan, Yemen

Delivering on our commitment

For Novo Nordisk, this partnership is an important delivery on our Access to Insulin Commitment which sets out to provide low-priced insulin to low-income countries and to organisations providing relief in humanitarian crises. Since 2001, when we launched our first access to care strategy, we’ve made much progress in developing partnerships and programmes that provide improved access to affordable treatment and healthcare infrastructure. By donating hundreds of millions of dollars to the World Diabetes Foundation, which we founded in 2002, we’ve also been able to enhance prevention and access to diabetes care in many low and middle-income countries.

Despite this, there is much work to do and providing access to care requires long-term commitment and collaboration. We will continue to invest in our range of access initiatives and to form broader, more ambitious partnerships to help us deliver on our commitment and responsibility to society. We will be updating on our progress working with the Red Cross, and if you would like to know more, you can find information here.

For more information, contact 
Adam Pittard, Corporate Editor. 


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Related to this article

Access to insulin commitment

Our commitment is to always having low-cost insulin in our product portfolio for people living in low- and middle income countries.

Learn more about our commitment


Partnering for change or Tackling chronic care in humanitarian crises

Working together to ensure all people in humanitarian crises living with non-communicable diseases have access to the treatment they need.

Learn more about Partnering for Change (PDF)