Insulin Shortage in Uzbekistan

Diabetes sufferers in Uzbekistan are paying high prices for the insulin they need, as the state is unable to keep up with the demand for prescription medication. 

"Buying insulin costs my family 250 [US] dollars a month. My parents are finding it hard to get the money,” Denis, a 17-year-old in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, said. He has type-1 diabetes and needs insulin injections several times a week.

The health ministry provides insulin free of charge to people with diabetes, but one doctor at a treatment centre, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the funds allocated to purchase the medication were not enough to ensure regular supplies. He said only one-third of patients were getting a steady supply, and the rest either had to buy insulin on the open market, or wait for weeks at a time.

Denis said someone he knew when they were both attending a treatment centre later died because of the shortage of insulin.

A representative of Uzbekistan’s Association of Endocrinologists, who did not want to be named, said the shortage had serious adverse effects, and untreated patients often slipped into a semi-comatose state.

Experts say things have got worse since the health ministry stopped a free supply service run by the Austrian group Insulin For Life.

The health ministry refuses to discuss availability, except to say there are no shortages. Deputy minister Asilbek Khudoyarov says everyone who needs insulin is getting it at the appropriate time.

In part, it depends on the specific medication needed – two branded drugs are more available in Uzbekistan, while three others needed by people with certain forms of diabetes have to be obtained in neighbouring Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Hamzat, a 47-year-old teacher in Tashkent, has had diabetes for six years and says his life has been at risk on many occasions when he has not been able to get insulin.

"It’s hard to obtain it on prescription. You have to queue up for it, and there isn’t enough to go round. Many people die waiting for medication," the teacher said.

Buying insulin is expensive, and getting it from abroad even more so.

"Diabetes patients don’t have the money to buy their medication, but officials keep quiet about it and say there’s enough," Hamzat said.

Diabetes sufferers say the state healthcare system has also reduced supplies of glucose test packs, which again are expensive to buy at commercial rates.

"My pension comes to 180,000 soms [70 dollars] a month, and the test strips cost me more than 120,000," Malohat, a 63-year-old pensioner diabetes, said.

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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