CEO Lars Sorensen talks about Novo Nordisk’s efforts to help patients living with diabetes get through Ramadan.
by Noha Mohammed
This month the 14.8% of Egypt’s adult population living with diabetes will likely suffer through Ramadan as their bodies struggle to cope with the changes in blood sugar levels caused by going without food so many hours every day. According to Novo Nordisk, the biggest maker of insulin in the world, an estimated 7.8 million people have diabetes Egypt, which has the eighth highest prevalence of diabetes worldwide. Last year alone more than 78,000 Egyptian adults were estimated to have died from diabetes-related diseases, an average of 214 deaths every day.
Undiagnosed and untreated diabetes not only has a devastating effect only on patients and their families, but is a heavy burden on the economy and the healthcare system. “And yet diabetes is a disease that you can live with,” says Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Sorensen. “But only if you regularly check with the doctor, taking the right medications on time, regular exercise and eating healthy.”
Novo Nordisk is an international giant when it comes to diabetes and treatment, operating in 75 countries and marketing its products in more than 180 countries all over the world. In its 90-odd years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care, the global healthcare company introduced the world’s first human insulin and the first insulin pen (in 1982 and 1985 respectively), revolutionizing the treatment options for diabetes. Today Novo Nordisk is ranked among the top 100 companies in the world. Most recently, Sørensen added another accolade to make the company proud when Business Harvard Review ranked him Best CEO in the World.
“It is our passion to turn novel scientific discoveries into new protein therapeutics that improve the treatment options for people living with diabetes, obesity, haemophilia and growth disorders.”
Building on decades of pioneering diabetes research, Novo Nordisk is currently the only company with a full portfolio of human and modern insulins. “Novo Nordisk was also the first company to introduce insulin pens to the market, and we continue to improve these. Today, we are one of the single largest investors in research and development in diabetes care globally. Over the last five years, we have invested between 14% and 15.8% of our annual global sales in R&D activities,” says Sørensen.[caption id="attachment_505399" align="alignnone" width="618"] Novo Nordisk CEO Lars Sorensen[/caption]
When it comes to the longevity of the company, Sørensen says that’s thanks in part to the growth of the very same disease they are trying to treat. “Diabetes is becoming a big problem. And we have to admit, there is an element of coincidence or luck if you want. The one thing that we are very, very good at is diabetes, and one of the things that is growing very much today is diabetes. As long as we can stay focused on what we are very good at, we can help our patients.
Dealing with Diabetes in Ramadan
This month Novo Nordisk’s insulin products will help fasting Muslims control their diabetes. “We are actually developing and demonstrating that some of our products are ideally suited during Ramadan because we know that this is a very difficult period of time and our patients are struggling to manage during the day and then they get too much to eat during the night and actually they end up in a worse situation,” explains Sørensen.
Mohamed El-Dababy, VP and GM Novo Nordisk Egypt, adds that, “What’s really unique about our company is that we have done clinical research and trials specifically for Muslim patients who do practice fasting during Ramadan. This research came up with specific benefits for these patients who do fast, saving them from becoming exposed to hypoglycemia. When they get hypoglycemia then they have to go against their will and break the fast or otherwise they have to reduce the dose; as a result of this their blood sugar gets really high. Novo Nordisk is one of the very few companies to have made such an investment in a special population like Muslim fasters.
Recent studies have revealed that 57% of diabetics don’t adhere to their treatment regimen if they have to take medication more than once a day, says Nordisk, whose once-a-day Victoza injection helps improve patients’ compliance.
“Diabetics should normalize their blood sugar levels before Ramadan to be able to fast without any complications by following the recommended medical instructions,” El-Dababy explains. “It is also important to comply with dietary advice from physicans, and to avoid traditional Ramadan desserts. On the other hand, patients who are advised not to fast are those who suffer from diabetes complications affecting blood vessels, heart and kidneys or patients who receive high and multiple doses of insulin throughout the day. Diabetics who plan to fast should, after consulting their physicians, use drugs that don’t cause hypoglycaemia, especially that the above mentioned risks force one of each three patients worldwide to break their fast. ”
Never ones to blow their own horns, Novo Nordisk helps not only its patients, but others also those in need. “We don’t like to publicize this a lot but we do contribute to cultural engagement during the holy month of Ramadan. There are many different ways of helping people to get enough food and also maybe to get them out of jail, that’s a special activity that we do. These people can’t pay back their dues and sometimes very small amounts could get someone out of jail who would otherwise be there for three years or so. So we do things like this but we rather prefer not to talk too much,” says El-Dababy.
“This is a humanitarian effort and we don’t want to publicize too much because then in a way that gift becomes like a commercial and this is not really honorable,” says Sørensen, explaining that Novo Nordisk is committed to engaging with the public when it comes to raising awareness of diabetes.
“In 2010, Novo Nordisk Egypt launched the NovoCare project with two centers in Cairo to support and educate people with diabetes. Today we have 30 centers across Egypt. The centers aim to support and educate people with diabetes with the help of qualified diabetes educators. Currently we have 29 educators who have been trained in providing simple and practical information on diabetes, diet, exercise, managing complications and foot care. Educational materials are also made available and distributed at the centers.”
The outreach program is still going strong, says Sørensen. “From 2013 to date, NovoCare provided education and support to around 102,000 Egyptian patients through 1-1 educational dialogue and group awareness sessions. More than 150 training sessions were conducted by NovoCare team for people with diabetes. To date more than 33,000 people with diabetes have received diabetes education and support through the NovoCare centers in Egypt.”
In addition to the centers, Novo Nordisk also rolled out a Diabetes Bus which has been used in various parts of the world to inform people about diabetes and encourage diagnosis. The bus, a joint initiative between Novo Nordisk, the Egyptian Ministry of Health and the National Diabetes and Endocrinology Institute, is fitted with equipment and staffed with medical personnel to offer screening and education as it tours Egypt.
Scores of children live with diabetes in Egypt and to help patient awareness Novo Nordisk recently organized a Diabetes Children Camp in partnership with the Diabetes Youth Care Association (DYCA). The three-day “Changing Diabetes in Children” camp brought together kids with type 1 diabetes, in an innovative, friendly and interactive atmosphere where children were taught the best ways to manage their type 1 diabetes. Discussed were issues such as insulin, healthy food, foot care, exercise and other advice to help kids with diabetes enjoy a better life.
A special child Novo Nordisk is sponsoring is Amr Ossama, who has won several medals in taekwondo and kung fu, nabbing a national silver medal at only 13 years of age. Amr has type 1 diabetes and is Amr’s dream to become a taekwondo or kung fu world champion and continue his journey to inspire people and children, not only in Egypt but around the world. Novo Nordisk Egypt recently signed an agreement to sponsor Amr’s sports activities to support him in achieving his ambitions.