Aboriginal communities ‘need priority access’ to GLP-1 RAs


By Geir O'Rourke

27 Mar 2024

Governments are being urged to step in to safeguard deliveries of newer GLP-1 RA diabetes medicines to disadvantaged and remote Indigenous communities, who are currently unable to access the drugs despite desperate need.

It comes after a federal parliamentary inquiry into diabetes heard warnings that patients in communities across central Australia were unable to obtain medications such as semaglutide and tirzepatide due to a lack of deliveries in the NT and WA.

Diabetes Australia acting group CEO Taryn Black said the global shortage of GLP-1 agonists was having a serious impact on the diabetes community, particularly in parts of Australia where rates of type 2 diabetes are disproportionately high.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more than three times as likely to live with diabetes and nearly five times more likely to be hospitalised with diabetes-related complications,” Ms Black said.

“We know that new medicines like GLP-1 agonists are highly effective, so we need to ensure that they are available in areas of most need.

“In Australia, that means prioritising access for Aboriginal communities in rural and remote areas where high rates of type 2 diabetes are having a devastating impact on peoples lives,” she said.

Grace Ward, Elder Advocate at Diabetes Australia and Kamilaroi-Yuwaalaraay diabetes educator, said the burden of disease from type 2 diabetes in Aboriginal communities was a major issue with up to 40% prevalence rates in Aboriginal adults in Central Australia.

“Worryingly, the age of diagnosis is also getting younger,” Ms Ward said.

“This week we recognised National Close the Gap Day. Health equity is a key theme of closing the gap.

“Governments should prioritise working with communities, seeking solutions to address the barriers to the wellbeing of Aboriginal people living with type 2 diabetes, by providing access to critical diabetes medicines including GLP-1 RAs.

“This would improve diabetes management and prevent complications,” Ms Ward said.

Priority access

Australian Diabetes Society CEO Sof Andrikopoulos said newer medications need to be provided to remote communities without restriction.

“Access to diabetes medicines needs to be provided without delay to Aboriginal communities in central Australia in particular, in order to address the significant burden of disease in these communities,” Mr Andrikopoulos said.

Chairman of the diabetes inquiry, Labor MP Dr Mike Freelander, backed the call for priority access for Aboriginal people in remote Australia.

“There is no doubt that type 2 diabetes, whilst it’s a problem across the whole country, there’s no question that Indigenous communities are really suffering the most, and access to care and medications is very difficult,” he said last week in an interview with The Australian (link here).

“The new GLP-1 agonist medications and some of the other newer medications are gamechangers, but only if regular supply is available.”

“When we have supply shortages it is a major concern that the wealthier people can access it and the poorer people can’t and the poor need it the most.”

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