SA World leaders in the treatment of diabetes

The rise in the number of cases of diabetes worldwide has been rampant, and developing countries in the Southern African region have been amongst the hardest hit. Numbers from the International Diabetes Foundation suggest that there are over 3 million people with the disease in South Africa alone, and those numbers may rise to 4.3 million in the next 25 years.

The South Africa division of Novo Nordisk is doing a great deal to slow these numbers. “We have seen an exponential increase in the number of new cases of diabetes in SA,” says Eric Reurts, General Manager of Novo Nordisk Southern African Region. But as world leaders in diabetes care, the company is aware of its responsibility for helping create awareness of earlier and more aggressive treatment in order to prevent complications of diabetes from setting in.

The pharmaceutical products and services provider founded the World Diabetes Foundation to affect the lives of those who have diabetes in developing countries. The foundation was instrumental in achieving a UN resolution to fight diabetes, making diabetes the only other disease alongside HIV/AIDS to have such a commitment at the UN level. The company has a portfolio that is unrivalled in the global industry which has established them as the global initiators in diabetes care. The company are also leaders in haemostasis management, growth hormone and hormone replacement therapy.

Diabetes at home

The South Africa market in many ways resembles the European market in that it is estimated that 10 per cent of healthcare resources go towards diabetes. Of that 10 per cent, only two per cent is spent on day-to-day diabetes medication. The remainder is spent on diabetes management and keeping to a minimum the complications of diabetes.

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to dreaded health complications such as blindness, amputations, kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes, which are devastating to the individual and very expensive to health services. “There is now an increased awareness that aggressive and early treatment is what is needed from an economic perspective and the perspective of the individual,” explains Reurts.

“We cover 15 countries in the southern African region and we have the potential to reach every wholesaler and pharmacy in those countries,” he continues.
Novo Nordisk has made great headway in their education mission. “The major challenges we face are the old myths surrounding diabetes and insulin,” says Reurts, who has seen first-hand how the “stigma attached to diabetes has largely been overcome,” in large part because of the improvement in injection device. The NovoPen—an injection system which looks like a fountain pen—allows diabetes patient to receive insulin inconspicuously and without syringes.

“The advance in blood glucose monitoring has also been a major advancement for us and it has helped patients enormously,” says Reurts. It is important to know how your insulin doses and treatment plan are affecting your blood glucose levels so that you can adjust your treatment accordingly.

Novo Nordisk has representatives who will teach the patients how to use the pen, inject, use the monitor and how to interpret the testing. “Our reps undertake this process 8,200 times a year, and they have been a significant breakthrough in the management of the disease and the acceptance of our products, as well as our standing in the market place as a reliable partner in the management of diabetes.”

Social activity

Novo Nordisk take a holistic approach to the people they serve. Their effort towards the betterment of the lives of individuals goes beyond the standard requirement for large corporations. Unsatisfied with large cheques and photo-opportunities, Novo Nordisk has placed a very high priority in social programs.

According to Reurts, “Our main project within diabetes is to ensure the awareness of the disease among all stakeholders. To achieve this aim we have the Changing Diabetes Bus which, since its launch in 2007, has interacted with more than 28,000 South Africans to establish their individual risk profile and to give advice and information to people with diabetes.” The bus is operated by Novo Nordisk and staffed by professional nursing staff from the provincial health authorities in the province where it is visiting at the time. The bus is now upgraded and equipped with diagnostic equipment to test for circulation problems in the feet, a major risk factor for foot amputations, as well as a fundus camera and laser to diagnose and treat complications in the eye.

“We carry a great awareness of the need to take part in the transformation process in the SA economy,” says Reurts. Each year, four local previously disadvantaged students are given a one year opportunity to go to a European business school for an MBA program. There are no strings attached, and these students are not obligated to work for Novo Nordisk afterwards. There is another program for local employees where are put through local business school programs.

The company’s philanthropy extends outside the organization and outside pure pecuniary ambitions. Each employee takes part in at least one social responsibility project a year where the focus is on giving of one’s time and energy. For instance, one sales team in particular donated children’s books to a school in need, and went around a few times a year to read with them. Similar, localised projects, like planting gardens, refurbishing farm schools and patronising an AIDS hospice are “projects we believe in,” says Reurts. “We recognize that being a company in SA brings with it additional obligations than other countries.”

By finding better methods of diabetes prevention, detection and treatment, Novo Nordisk will continue to influence the lives of those living with diabetes by incorporating competitiveness with care.

www.novonordisk.co.za