Before the discovery of insulin, diabetes was a fatal condition. The only treatments available at the time were fasting and calorie-restricted diets (often called a “starving diet”), but nothing was really effective to maintain adequate levels of blood glucose and keep people with a severe form of diabetes (today known as type 1 diabetes) alive for more than a few months.
Insulin was discovered by Sir Frederick G. Banting, Charles Best, and John Macleod at the University of Toronto in 1921. On 11 January 1922 Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old boy living with diabetes, became the first person to receive an injection of insulin. However, Thompson developed an acute allergic reaction; over the next 12 days, James Bertram Collip worked hard to purify insulin, and a second dose was injected on the 23rd of January. The measurements then showed that his blood and urinary sugars dropped and went to normal. Leonard lived for another 13 years. Insulin had saved his life.
Insulin has since saved millions of lives and is considered to be one of the greatest medical achievements of all time.
The World Health Organisation Constitution states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is a fundamental right of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic and social conditions”.
Yet, one hundred years after its discovery, access to insulin and associated supplies and technologies still remain inaccessible to some, with great inequalities across the world and within individual countries. This mainly reflects issues linked to affordability. Due to financial constraints, many countries still do not reimburse all forms of insulin and/or required glucose monitoring tools (e.g. test strips, blood glucose meters, continuous glucose monitoring, etc.). Access to insulin is also sometimes linked to accessibility issues, while access to the care (in particular self-management education) required to optimise health outcomes through the use of insulin and associated technologies and other diabetes medicines is also sorely lacking in many countries.
On the road to this momentous milestone, IDF Europe calls on governments across Europe to consider access to all diabetes medicines, supplies, and technologies required to achieve the best possible outcomes a basic right of the people living with diabetes, and ensure that each person living with diabetes receive the treatment that s/he needs according to the most up-to-date evidence regarding the benefits of medicines and technologies including newer alternatives.
To celebrate the Centenary of Insulin, in January 2021, IDF Europe is launching a major three-year campaign, designed to celebrate the many advances which have taken place over the past 100 years, and which have already transformed the lives of people with diabetes and call on more action to ensure all people living with diabetes have the best possible quality of life and health outcomes.
Click here to read about our launch event 'Imagining the next 100 years of diabetes' and to watch video testimonials from people living with diabetes.
The discovery of Insulin
What the future holds for diabetes
Imagining the next 100 years
Diabetes in Europe Factsheet
Diabetes worldwide Factsheet
Throughout the next three years, we will add more content on the Campaign and the situation regarding access to insulin, other diabetes medicines, supplies, and technologies. Please come back for more information!
We thank our strategic partners for their support of IDF Europe. Special thanks to Lilly Diabetes for their additional support of the IDF Europe Centenary of Insulin Campaign.