Novo Nordisk, Red Cross team up to tackle chronic diseases in conflict zones

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COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk and aid agency Red Cross have teamed up to try to improve the treatment of chronic diseases among the millions affected by conflicts and humanitarian crises in countries such as Syria and Yemen.

Non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes and hypertension, also known as chronic diseases, kill 40 million people per year, equivalent to 70 percent of all deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Non-communicable diseases are a silent killer and often overlooked during times of armed conflict,” said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“If you look at Yemen, Syria, Iraq and beyond, thousands will remain with life-threatening illnesses if they are not able to receive essential medical supplies such as insulin to treat diabetes,” he said.

Novo Nordisk, the world’s largest diabetes drugmaker, said it would contribute 21.5 million Danish crowns ($3.58 million) and adapt its ordering and production procedures to better serve the needs of humanitarian organizations.

Cardiovascular diseases account for most NCD deaths, around 17.7 million people annually, followed by cancers which kill 8.8 million, respiratory diseases with 3.9 million deaths, and diabetes with 1.6 million deaths, according to WHO.

The risk of exacerbating chronic diseases for people living in humanitarian crises are two to three times higher than under normal conditions, Novo Nordisk said in a statement.

It is estimated that diabetes causes one in four limb amputations in patients at Red Cross centers in Yemen.

The partnership will also work to ensure supply of low-cost human insulin to the Red Cross’ global operations and start 2-3 projects to “provide care to people with hypertension and diabetes in humanitarian crises to be conducted within three years.”

Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Mark Potter