In most industrialized countries these days, being diagnosed with a metabolic disease like diabetes is no longer a life-or-death matter. A written prescription for a medicine like insulin and some stern advice from your doctor to eat well and exercise regularly is often what it takes to keep the disease under control.
Unless, of course, you live in Syria.
With the Syrian civil war now in its second year, purchasing life-saving drugs like insulin takes much more than a trip to the pharmacy or a script from the doctor. The medical system is in shambles; many of the country’s pharmaceutical factories (which at one time manufactured 90 percent of the country’s medications) have been destroyed, and access to pharmaceutical products from world suppliers like Novo Nordisk, has all been cut off.
According to Novo Nordisk, getting the insulin supplies into hospitals and clinics required months of advance planning as well as “personal risk” by its employees. Shipping routes constantly had to be devised and revised just to get the medications through the front lines to the clinics. In order to store them during Syria’s blistering summer heat, new equipment often had to be shipped in as well.
Shipping 3,700 vials of human insulin to the city of Dara’a, a particularly volatile area of the conflict in southwest Syria, took 45 days of planning and repeated delivery attempts. And when team members weren’t attempting to make deliveries in conflict areas, they were holding seminars in Arabic to teach patients about ways to manage their diabetes in “extreme environment(s)” like war zones and unpredictable weather conditions.
The TakeAction award is accorded to Novo Nordisk employees who demonstrate exceptional initiative in a volunteer capacity. The Syria team was picked from a total list of 72 activities represented by 2,425 employees worldwide.
“While people were fighting out there, we decided our must-win battle was to make our products available,” said Novo Nordisk General Manager Eyad Al Safadi.
Insulin is critical to the successful management of diabetes mellitus (Diabetes I). The hormone is normally manufactured by the human body, which uses it to metabolize the sugars found in foods. Patients who have diabetes mellitus often do not produce enough insulin in the body and require injections several times a day. Therefore, clinics and pharmacies often maintain a ready supply of human insulin, which must be refrigerated.
According to the International Diabetes Federation, Syria has the ninth highest incidence of diabetes in the Middle East, with 898,203 known cases. More than 8 percent of the population suffers from the disease, which can be fatal if not treated with insulin and medical attention. A recent report by the International Rescue Committee notes that the ready supply of insulin, cancer treatments and other forms of life-sustaining medical treatments remain at risk due to the ongoing civil war.