Zanzibar — AS the controversy over the efficacy of an Indian-made diabetes drug, Wosulin, hots up at Zanzibar's Mnazi Mmoja main hospital, patients are being put in danger.
Some 6,000 diabetics have refused to use Wosulin drug made by the India-based company, Wockhardt Limited, resolving to find other optional medicines to survive. "We have vowed not to use the medicine until our doctors approve it.
The medicine is still on trial, therefore we fear for our lives," said Waziri Said Othman, chairman of the Diabetes Association of Zanzibar (DAZ), adding:
"We cannot use the medicine until we get an assurance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other experts on its efficacy and safety.We wonder why the ministry imported the Wosulin drug without consulting our doctors."
A recent report shows that diabetes is running at record levels worldwide and half the people estimated to have the disease are, as yet, undiagnosed. The number of people living with diabetes is now put at 371 million, up from 366 million a year ago, with numbers expected to reach 552 million by 2030, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).
Iniatially diabetes was often viewed as a western problem, since the vast majority of people have type 2 disease which is linked to obesity and lack of exercise. But the disease is also spreading rapidly in poorer countries, alongside urbanisation, and four out of five diabetics now live in low and middleincome countries, opening up new opportunities and challenges for the drug industry.
China alone has 92.3 million people with diabetes, more than any other nation in the world, and the hidden burden is also enormous in sub-Saharan Africa where limited healthcare means less than a fifth of cases get diagnosed. The IDF estimates that, globally, 187 million people do not yet know they are suffering from the condition.
Diabetics have inadequate blood sugar control which can lead to serious complications, including nerve and kidney damage and blindness. Worldwide deaths from the disease are running at 4.8 million a year.
The disease is one of a number of chronic conditions - along with cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases - that healthcare campaigners want included in the next set of global development goals, which will replace outgoing Millennium Developments Goals in 2015.
Doctors serving diabetes patients in Zanzibar are reluctant to prescribe the medicine purchased from a private trader, who himself procured it from a Dar es Salaam supplier two months ago after medicines from Novo Nordisk of Denmark ran out of stock.
In response to the claims by the diabetes patients in the islands, the Zanzibar Ministry of Health issued a statement defending the Wosulin drug, saying it was safe and asked the patients to use it without fear.
"We are always keen-the Wosulin diabetes drug is registered and we have tested it for quality, safety and efficacy. So far however there is no pharmaco- vigilance report issued by the Zanzibar Food, Medicines and Cosmetics Board," it read in part.
It appealed to the general public, particularly diabetes patients, to trust the ministry and use the drug, adding that enough consultations have been made to prove that the Wosulin drug is safe.
In a separate meeting with the 'Daily News,' the Minister for Heath, Mr Juma Duni Haji, said the Wosulin drug was purchased from Dar es Salaam through proper procedures "after the Medical Supplies Department in Dar es Salaam informed us that they had no diabetes medicines when we placed the order."
"Medical experts here at the ministry have confirmed to me that the Indian-made drug is safe," said Duni, adding that the patients were deliberately being misled for reasons yet to be established.