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UAE diabetics face Ozempic shortage due to weight-loss users

The manufacturer of Ozempic is “troubled” by the fact the drug, which was designed to help people with diabetes, is in short supply in the UAE because of the high number of consumers using it for its weight loss side-effects.

Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk introduced Wegovy, a drug meant to specifically tackle obesity, to the UAE market in November last year, in the hope of persuading non-diabetic users to stop buying Ozempic.

However, the sheer volume of diabetic and obese patients in the UAE, coupled with supply chain disruptions, continues to put a strain on the availability of Ozempic. 

Demand for the drug escalated during the Covid-19 pandemic, as diabetic and obese patients were prone to severe complications if they contracted coronavirus. Demand and sales for the medication have remained strong after the pandemic.

“It hasn’t stabilised now because of the size of the problem,” Mads Bo Larsen, vice-president of Novo Nordisk UAE, told AGBI. “One-third of the population in the UAE are overweight, one-third obese and one-third normal. One billion people in the world have obesity. To satisfy that demand is difficult.”

Earlier this year, Novo Nordisk agreed to acquire three manufacturing sites (two in Europe and one in the US) for $11 billion in a bid to expand production of its diabetes and weight-loss drugs, the success of which has sent the company’s valuation to $598 billion. 

The company recorded 29 percent sales growth last year, and 27 percent in the first quarter of this year. The company said figures in the UAE were similar to the global results.

Despite the rampant increase in demand from the emirates and the ongoing Red Sea shipping crisis, the company does not plan to open a manufacturing unit in the region. 

“That will not solve anything,” Larsen said. “It will take five years before a manufacturing plant here can start construction and get the first box out. It takes five years to validate a factory to produce the active ingredients and devices.” 

Ozempic and Wegovy are available in the UAE for approximately AED1,200 ($326) for four weeks’ dose, without a prescription. The drugs are not covered under insurance policies.

The price of the drugs has fallen in some parts of the world, as volumes and competition have increased, but prices in the UAE have remained stable.

“It’s the traditional lifecycle for products – cars, watches and treatment,” said Larsen. “You will see high price levels (in the beginning), because it’s new, innovative and different. 

“Then competition will come in with more supply and alternatives in the market (to further reduce prices). But, with the supply problems we have now, it will take a little more time.”

Airlines are apparently spending less fuel as people are getting thinner after consuming weight-loss drugs, an executive claimed. To find out more about other such Ozempic effects, watch the full video.

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