Today is World Diabetes Day, a day that marks the birth of Canadian scientist and Nobel laureate Dr. Frederick Banting.

In 1922, alongside Charles Best and James Collip, Banting was responsible for one of the single greatest scientific achievements of the twentieth century. Through the discovery of insulin, he changed the face of diabetes forever and saved millions of lives. But his greatest contribution to diabetes came shortly after, when he sold the patent rights to insulin to the University of Toronto for only one dollar, stating that “Insulin does not belong to me; it belongs to the world.” 

Knowing that he held the rights to one of the most valuable medical treatments in the world at that time, Banting made this choice to demonstrate that all humans deserve equal access to good health, regardless of their ability to pay. Yet today, nearly a century later, Canadians continue to suffer poor health because they cannot afford to pay for their essential diabetes medications.

Why? Because Canada lacks pharmacare, a universal drug coverage program.

When patients cannot afford to pay for their life-saving insulin or oral diabetes medications, their blood sugars rapidly climb, and they can sustain severe and life-threatening complications. In the Emergency Department where I work, I frequently see patients presenting in critical condition from infections, strokes, heart attacks, or a life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, as a result of their inability to take their diabetes medications. Even more common are complications such as kidney failure, vision loss, and vascular disease, which develop as a result of poorly controlled diabetes.

All of these conditions are dangerous for patients, and costly to Canada’s health care system. More than 400 working-aged Canadians die each year due to complications of diabetes, simply because they cannot access their prescription medications. Current trends project that the cost of diabetes to the health care system will be $16.9 billion in 2020. This does not take into account the additional economic costs of sick leave and lost productivity among our working-aged population.

A national pharmacare program would ensure that all Canadians, regardless of their economic status, marital status, or employment status, would be able to afford the essential medications that they need to remain healthy. Such a program is supported by a robust body of research, as well as the Final Report of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, commissioned by the previous Liberal majority government. Furthermore, the vast majority of Canadians support the idea; in an Angus Reid poll published just before the 2019 federal election, 78% of all voters supported a national pharmacare program.

Our current system of patchwork private drug plans isn’t working, and it leaves too many Canadians without access to their life-saving medications. This is directly in conflict with the principle of health as a basic human right, upon which our public health care system is based. A national pharmacare program is economically feasible, good for the health care system, and good for Canadians. All we need is the political will to make it happen.

Today, on the anniversary of Frederick Banting’s birth, what better way for Canadians to honour his legacy than to say yes to pharmacare?