Increased demand leads to global shortage of diabetes equipment component

A global shortage of a component used in conjunction with a popular brand of insulin pump has left some people resorting to older methods to test their blood sugar. 

Medtronic, a Dublin-based medical technology development company, said a global surge in demand for their glucose sensor has lead to a “temporary disruption” in supply. 

“This shouldn’t happen,” said Mark Merrett of Dartmouth, N.S. “They should have saw it coming.”

The 37-year-old was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at 16. He has been using an insulin pump for over 10 years and the continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) for four or five years. 

Earns Medtronics

Medtronic says it’s working around the clock to meet demand for the sensors. (Associated Press)

Insulin pumps work by delivering insulin 24 hours a day through a catheter placed under the skin, giving Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes patients a little more flexibility in their routine compared with traditional injection methods. 

The devices know how much insulin to release and how often because of a tiny electrode sensor placed below the skin that continuously measures the amount of glucose in the blood. 

It’s these sensors that are in short supply. 

Spike in demand

According to Melicent Lavers, who speaks for Medtronic, there are a few reasons for the recent spike in demand for the sensors, including an earlier-than-expected approval of the company’s insulin pump in the U.S. and strong demand for the company’s newest model pump and continuous glucose monitoring technology in Canada. 

Lavers also said countries like Germany and Australia have recently started reimbursing the public for the cost of the monitors, which has increased demand. 

Merrett has been using finger-prick tests to monitor his blood sugar level during the shortage.

For people like Merrett, insulin pumps and CGMs take away some of the stress of living with diabetes.

“It’s so much easier. I don’t have to worry so much about testing all the time and I get signals telling me you should either test your sugar, or you need to have some sugar, or you need to take more insulin before your blood sugars get out of control,” said Merrett.

Company working ‘around the clock’ 

Lavers said the company is “working around the clock” in an effort to meet the demand and said Canadian customers will be able to get the sensors they need in the next couple of weeks. 

“We deeply apologize for this and understand the importance our technologies have in the management of diabetes,” said Lavers in an email. 

Earns Medtronic

Medtronic says it’s working “around the clock” to meet increased demand. (Medtronic/Associated Press)

“Please know that as soon as we became aware of the increased demand, we immediately initiated plans to increase our manufacturing capacity with new and expanded lines and additional shifts that are operating around the clock.”

Diabetes Canada said in a statement that anyone affected by the shortage should contact their doctor to make sure they’re correctly monitoring their blood sugar. 

“We have just become aware of this situation and hope it will be resolved quickly so people living with diabetes have access to the technology they need to manage their disease effectively.”

Living with diabetes

In Type 1 diabetes, the body is no longer able to make insulin. Left untreated, damage to blood vessels and nerves may result.

Merrett’s father died from complications of the disease.

“I can see what can happen after having diabetes for 50 years, and he had passed away before these devices were available. So it’s something that, until they can find an actual cure for it, I’ll have to live with it,” said Merrett.

“A sensor is a great thing and as a device, if they’re offering it, they need to really make sure that those things are available for the patients that use them.”

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CBC | Health News