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By Carien Grobler

Deputy Digital Editor


Supply Shortage: National Health Department warns of insulin pen stock-outs

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa has cautioned that the transition to vials and syringes for insulin delivery, in the absence of insulin pens, could have significant repercussions for many diabetes patients.


In a significant setback for individuals managing diabetes, the National Department of Health (NDoH) in South Africa issued a statement last week warning of potential shortages of human insulin pen devices. This directive instructed healthcare facilities nationwide to exercise caution in the allocation of insulin pens for diabetes patients due to anticipated supply constraints.

Despite recent formal procurement efforts by the NDoH for insulin pens, major pharmaceutical firms such as Novo Nordisk, a Danish corporation and the former supplier in South Africa, along with other insulin manufacturers, have reportedly failed to meet the demand. Consequently, these manufacturers are solely offering human insulin in vials, necessitating patients to administer insulin via syringes.

Novo Nordisk has historically been a key supplier of human insulin pens in South Africa through previous tenders with the NDoH, having delivered over 14 million human insulin pens to the country over the past three years.

Transitioning to vials and syringes is risky

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Southern Africa has cautioned that the transition to vials and syringes for insulin delivery, in the absence of insulin pens, could have significant repercussions for many diabetes patients.

They have urged Novo Nordisk and other insulin pen manufacturers to recognize their responsibility and take immediate measures to ensure a consistent supply of insulin pens to South Africa, where they are essential for diabetes management.

“We are astonished by the thoughtless irresponsibility of insulin manufacturers who didn’t consider warning the South African government in advance about their decision to no longer sell insulin pens in South Africa. We urge Novo Nordisk and other insulin makers to recognise their responsibility towards people with diabetes in South Africa and globally, whilst they continue to reap exorbitant profits on their products from high-income markets, and take immediate steps to continue supplying pen devices, which are essential for quality diabetes care,” said Camren McAravey, Country Operational Representative for MSF in South Africa.

Managing diabetes

Managing diabetes is already a demanding task. For those relying on insulin, it involves calculating food intake, monitoring sugar levels, and predicting how these factors will interact with their insulin doses, often multiple times a day. The dosing mechanism on insulin pens simplifies this process, offering a more straightforward way to measure the correct dose, especially when injecting outside the home. Many users also report experiencing less discomfort when using pen needles.

Administering the wrong amount of insulin can have serious consequences for individuals with diabetes, including hypoglycemia, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, even death, MSF warned.

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