On the 8th of January, members of Diabète et Méchant, the French Chapter of T1International, demonstrated in front of Sanofi’s headquarters in Paris against their high insulin prices. The demonstration was meant to commemorate the 98th anniversary of the first successful injection of insulin in 1922.
The protesters were supported by Santé Diabète, a non-profit organization dedicated to diabetes in Africa, and l’Observatoire de la transparence dans les politiques du médicament. Those demonstrating had posters saying “insulin is not perfume”, “unaffordable insulin kills”, and “Sanofi, Novo-Nordisk and Eli-Lilly are responsible and guilty”. They were also singing “insulin pour tous” accompanied by the English version “insulin for all”.
Two members of the protest wanted to enter Sanofi’s headquarters in order to hand over the information letters they had prepared to the Sanofi staff. However, Sanofi’s security service refused to let these members in, even though they were accompanied by the French police. They wanted to present the information and make their stance clear: Sanofi’s prices are killing people and the company must lower their insulin prices.
In France, it is known by some that Sanofi is involved in other health scandals. They keep close links with authorities, which explains the lack of media attention around the issue. Journalist and MP François Ruffin, who supported the Sanofi action, revealed recently in a book, “Un député et son collab' chez Big Pharma”, that Sanofi’s average profit margins range from between 500% to more than 1000%.
The matter of access to insulin is difficult to explain to people in France. The insulin and supplies needed to treat all types of diabetes are reimbursed at 100% by the French Government, or Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie (CPAM). Everything, including insulin, test strips, needles, insulin pumps, etc. does not cost the patient anything out of pocket, though of course we all pay for it indirectly through social security/insurance contribution.
Hence, the system in France is set up so that patients do not need to think about the prices, nor profits. However, the demonstration was to ensure that patients do not take the system for granted, and to show solidarity with those who – by pure bad luck and due to pharmaceutical greed – cannot afford or access what they need. It is important that all people with diabetes stand together. Here is the point: In France, we are protected by an efficient healthcare system and we do not have to worry about the costs. That doesn’t mean that we can turn a blind eye while people with type 1 diabetes in the developing and developed world are dying.
The situation in USA is especially revolting because of the gap between the cost to produce insulin (around 6 USD) and the list price for one vial (around 300 USD) is huge. Moreso, we are outraged by the humiliating situations and huge mental load the high costs creates for people with diabetes, whatever country they are in. Diabetes already steals too much time.
These companies say they exist to help patients, but they are holding patients hostage. Our work has only just begun.