Uzbekistan's insulin business
The government relaunches a project in partnership with Russia to open a large factory to produce the hormone. There are about 250,000 diabetes patients in the country, including 2,300 children and almost 1,000 adolescents. Suspicions of corruption and a possible operation to circumvent sanctions against Russia.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - In Uzbekistan, the government has announced plans to open a new large insulin production factory, to be built thanks to Russian investment. Insulin is a vital preparation for diabetes sufferers, against which Tashkent has decided to work hard. The announcement had come during the April 'Innoprom - Central Asia' exhibition, organised by the Uzbek company 'Zuma-Pharma' and the Russian company 'Gerofarm', from which the current agreement originated.
The Uzbek authorities did not give details on where the new factory will be opened, nor on the standards it is proposed to follow. It will be the industry's second specialised base in Uzbekistan, following the one opened in 2018 in Andižan, which was hitherto believed to be 'the only insulin company in the whole of Central Asia'. In fact, however, the facility has so far failed to carry out any real production of the anti-diabetes preparation that it has raised several concerns and suspicions of large-scale corruption.
Patients with type I diabetes depend on the supply of insulin, which is distributed in Uzbekistan in monthly doses, but with frequent interruptions or delays in service. This often leads patients to hospitalisation up to resuscitation, with the risk that not even the use of the hormone can then bring conditions back to normal. As some patients tell Ozodlik, 'that's why they then offer us an even stronger insulin, Lantus, which we have to look for and buy ourselves'.
Each injection of insulin that the state is unable to provide costs patients 80,000 som (about 7 euro), for a dose that is enough for three to five days, and each syringe in turn costs 200 som. Insulin is bought in private pharmacies, although it sometimes disappears from them as well. According to the Ministry of Health, there are about 250,000 diabetes patients in Uzbekistan, including 2,300 children and almost 1,000 adolescents.
The new insulin factory raises the hopes of many people for a disease that is so widespread in the country. In fact, the preliminary agreements with the Russian Gerofarm date back even before the start of the war in Ukraine, and it is hoped that they will now reach the operational phase. According to some rumours, the Russians will be granted one of the semi-dismantled factories in Almalyk province, but everything is still very much undetermined.
Questions also remain unanswered about the unsavoury business dealings of the Uzbek pharmaceutical sector in recent years, according to some linked in large part to certain branches of President Mirziyoyev's family, and to relatives of the Health Minister himself, who was later forced to resign. The Andižan factory used a very generous credit from international banks, amounting to 23.5 billion som (EUR 2.1 million), the destination of which remained largely unknown, given the poor investment results.
According to a Canadian microbiologist of Uzbek origin, Obid Mamadaliev, 'in Uzbekistan they are not actually able to produce insulin, they will just package it with boxes and bottles that are also of foreign production... I know these factories and the tricks of this business, under the pretext of production they import everything without paying taxes, and make big profits by reselling everything to the state'.
The suspicion remains that even life-saving drugs may be a means of laundering and circumventing sanctions by Russia, with the compliant support of the 'Uzbek brothers'.