Insulin for Life
Life with Type 1 diabetes can be quite difficult. As any person living with diabetes — including the author — can attest, to live with diabetes means constantly balancing food intake with insulin injections, deciding whether or not to exercise based on one’s blood sugar number, and becoming comfortable with life-or-death situations that arise when one inevitably does something wrong. However, all of these challenges are made even worse if one happens to live in a poor country where diabetes supplies are rare, expensive or both. Fortunately, Insulin for Life gives diabetes supplies to poor countries, giving diabetics around the world a chance to live their lives.

Origin of Insulin for Life

Dr. Mark Atkinson and Dr. Francine Kaufman both specialize in diabetes care, and for many years, they helped diabetics in the U.S. obtain supplies. However, as their careers progressed, they became aware that many diabetics in developing countries lacked access to insulin. The harder they worked to help local diabetics, the more aware they became of diabetics in places like Ghana who could not do insulin injections and, thus, were doomed to die.

Finally, they couldn’t stand it anymore. On August 5th, 2012, the two doctors gathered together a group of board members and founded Insulin for Life U.S.A — the non-profit organization responsible for giving new life to diabetics in low-income countries. The Borgen Project recently had the opportunity to interview Insulin for Life’s Carol Atkinson in January of 2019, and her responses are embedded throughout this article.

About Insulin for Life

Insulin for Life gives diabetes supplies to poor countries such as Mexico or Tonga by accepting donations of unneeded diabetes supplies. These supplies are shipped to the organization’s office in Gainesville, Florida, and then to their international partners and places that need disaster relief.

As of 2018, Insulin for Life gave supplies to Cambodia, Cook Island, Ecuador, Ghana, India, the Philippines, Tonga, Haiti, Nigeria, Cayman, Belize, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Uganda, the Gambia, Liberia, Togo and Rwanda. More countries are sending in applications, but Insulin for Life cannot compile a list of recipients for 2019 until they are sure they can accommodate them all (Carol Atkinson).

Internet Presence & Resource Management

In addition to their website, Insulin for Life has a strong presence both on social media and in disaster relief (Carol Atkinson). This online presence has attracted a number of sponsors, one of which being Total Diabetes Supplies, an online store that sells diabetes supplies ranging from continuous glucose monitor supplies to insulin syringes for pets. Another sponsor is Medtronic, a company that uses and develops biomedical engineering to improve the lives of people in general. All of Insulin for Life’s sponsors work with the non-profit organization to solve the problem of getting insulin to diabetics in low-income countries.

Every year, Insulin for Life sets a supply goal for the amount of insulin and the number of blood sugar test strips they plan on receiving and distributing. In 2018, that goal was 125,000 ml of insulin and 475,000 test strips. By the end of the year, they received 128,808 ml of insulin and 556,384 test strips. There is no official goal posted for 2019 as of this writing, but the eventual goal will be to receive more insulin and test strips than they did last year (Carol Atkinson).

The only supplies that Insulin for Life does not currently accept are pumps and continuous glucose monitor supplies, mainly because many of their recipient countries lack the electricity and infrastructure necessary to run these devices. While they are making plans to eventually start accepting these supplies, they simply cannot distribute them to many of their recipients at this time (Carol Atkinson).

Providing Support for Diabetics

Life with Type 1 diabetes is hard enough without having to worry about whether or not you can get your hands on life-saving supplies. Luckily, Insulin for Life gives diabetes supplies to poor countries whose citizens might not otherwise receive them. This allows diabetics in low-income countries to lead relatively normal lives, a reality that would not be possible without blood sugar and insulin supplies. Thanks to Insulin for Life, a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis no longer guarantees death in developing countries.

– Cassie Parvaz
Photo: Flickr