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Type 1

Do You Have Extra Diabetes Supplies You No Longer Need?

By Nicole Kofman and Kelly Close

Twitter Summary: Learn how you can donate your unused diabetes supplies to help save peoples lives around the world: donate at this link.

Before insulin was discovered in 1921, a diabetes diagnosis was often a death sentence. Nearly 100 years later, it still is in many places on our planet.

This is particularly true in less developed parts of the world, where hundreds of thousands of people with diabetes don’t have access to the most basic life-saving resources that we often take for granted: insulin, strips, and meters.

There are several organizations dedicated to bringing these resources to people across the world with diabetes – Life for a Child, Insulin for Life, Team Type 1 Foundation, and Marjorie’s Fund are just a few. We were fortunate to sit down recently with Dr. Mark and Carol Atkinson, President and Director of Insulin For Life USA (IFL USA), to learn more about their work and how people can get involved. We hugely support the work of IFL USA, which gathers unused diabetes supplies from the U.S. and sends them, free of charge, to people in need in disadvantaged regions. You can learn how to donate your unused supplies (insulin, strips, and more) at this link, and read below why and how IFL USA came to be. What amazing efforts the Atkinsons are making – and this is in addition to all that Dr. Atkinson is already doing at the University of Florida and with the nPOD Program.

The Problem

As Dr. Atkinson outlined in a recent highly praised piece published in the research journal The Lancet, there are several barriers to accessing diabetes supplies, including:

  • High cost of insulin and blood glucose test strips;

  • Insufficient health system resources applied to diabetes;

  • Lack of diabetes education; and

  • Lack of home refrigeration.

For these reasons and more, people in resource poor countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America die from diabetes at much higher rates compared to those the developed world. IFL USA reports that over 90,000 children across the world lack proper access to insulin and diabetes supplies.

A Solution

Many patients in developed countries end up throwing out unused insulin and other supplies, particularly when changing treatment plans, but also even just at the end of every month. What if instead of throwing these supplies away (or letting that unneeded insulin expire), people could send their extra supplies to people across the world that could benefit from them? That’s where IFL comes in. IFL Global was originally established in Australia in 1999 to collect unused resources in Australia to send to people in need in developing countries. The organization has since spread to ten countries, including IFL USA in 2012. See the full list here.

There are a variety of reasons that people with diabetes in developed countries might have extra supplies. Examples include:

  • A person switched from multiple daily injection (MDI) therapy to pump therapy and has extra unexpired insulin vials, pens, syringes, and needles that they no longer need;

  • A person had a change in insulin prescription but still has extra vials of his or her previously prescribed insulin that are not expired;

  • A person with type 2 diabetes loses significant weight and can reduce their medications, leading to a surplus of supplies;

  • A pharmacy error leads to extra insulin that a person can’t use; or,

  • A person with diabetes passed away and had unused or extra supplies.

There are a range of other possible reasons too – do you have any to add to our list? To date, IFL USA has donated over 12,000 vials of insulin and over 240,000 test strips to people in developing countries – that’s worth over $1 million. About 5,000 people currently depend on IFL USA for insulin and other diabetes supplies, and we are confident that people with diabetes in the U.S. and Europe could help many, many more people if they knew that donating surplus supplies were an option.

How You Can Donate Supplies

Currently, IFL USA accepts donations via mail. Insulin must be refrigerated up until the moment it’s placed in the package to be shipped, and it must be packed with an ice pack. The most important point that the Atkinson’s emphasized is that any donated insulin must be unopened and unexpired – expired insulin isn’t any more useful to people in other countries than it is to you, of course (the Atkinsons say they unfortunately receive a lot of expired insulin – please don’t send this!). Glucose meters, test strips, pen needles, lancing devices, and other supplies can also be donated. See here for the full list.

IFL USA’s website offers in-depth instructions on how to mail insulin along with other supplies. The mailing process requires some effort, though in the future supplies might be donated directly at a local health centers. 

Photo Credit: Insulin for Life USA