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When 50-year-old Guadalupe Rentería’s vision began to blur—one symptom of diabetes—she started paying attention to other worrisome health issues, too. Her tendency to become irritated quickly, along with the peeling skin on her feet, were also signs of diabetes, the disease that had caused her father’s death. 

In Mexico, where Rentería lives, diabetes is the leading cause of death. It is behind 80,000 fatalities each year and is considered a national emergency. About 14 million Mexicans are diabetic, another 40 million are believed to have the disease and not know it, and several million others are prediabetic. In some states, complications from diabetes have led to a spike in suicides, since the cost of treatment is too high for many to afford adequate care.

Because Rentería’s symptoms persisted, she walked into Clinicas del Azucar, the largest chain of specialized diabetes clinics in Mexico, and asked for a blood test. Within 15 minutes she got confirmation that she had the disease. Because she had watched the progression of her father’s illness, she knew her lifelong condition would require active management to stay healthy and minimize potentially life-threatening complications. 

But Rentería had come to the right place. Clinicas’ innovative concept for diabetes care builds on a one-stop retail shop model, incorporating a multi-disciplinary health team under one roof.  Coordinated care for diabetes and hypertension is provided by specialized doctors, nurses, nutritionists, and psychologists. Working together, they provide patients with a comprehensive diet and exercise strategy that helps control blood sugar levels and prevent complications.

IFC’s 2018 equity investment of $4 million is helping the Clinicas del Azucar chain reach and treat the most vulnerable of these patients. With our support, the company plans to open 100 new and larger clinics across Mexico by 2024 and expand its digital strategy to offer more services. The financing also includes the participation of Promotora Social Mexico and The Social Entrepreneurs Fund.

Disruptive Innovation with a Personal Motivation

Offering support to diabetes patients is especially important in Mexico, where there could be at least 30 million diabetics in the next decade if the crisis grows unabated.

“We had a vision to disrupt how diabetes care was delivered in Mexico,” says Javier Lozano, the founder and chief executive officer of Clínicas del Azucar. “We were passionate about making it affordable for middle- and low-income people.” Since then, the company has reduced the cost of privately provisioned diabetes care from $1,000 to $250 a year, according to Lozano. Since the first clinic opened in 2011, he says, Clinicas has already prevented more than 20,000 diabetes-related complications.

IFC’s investment presents a “unique opportunity to work together with the sector and transform Mexico into one of the leaders in the development of technology and innovation in diabetes care,” says Lozano. “This investment will help us not only to continue expanding our social mission to reach many more patients, but it will also have an incredible impact across many communities.”

As of July 2019, Clinicas operated 15 locations in four Mexican states, making it the largest private provider of specialized diabetes and hypertension care in Mexico. Its 220 health specialists, more than two-thirds of whom are women, have treated more than 103,000 patients. More than 63 percent of patients have met their goals for maintaining blood sugar levels and keeping their diabetes under control. This is well above the rate in Mexico’s public sector and is comparable to international standards. 

Digital Tools for Disease Control

Clínicas del Azúcar also uses information technology and data analytics to monitor patients. IFC support will help the chain reach more patients by expanding this digital strategy, which integrates behavioral science, big data analytics, artificial intelligence technology, and a mobile app. This will help preserve its low-cost structure and reduce the financial burden for patients.  The approach helps patients better manage complex conditions and results in fewer complications that require costly hospital treatment.

The chain’s novel system for diabetes care worked for Rentería. In her initial visit, her blood sugar levels were elevated, and she was overweight. Now, “my diabetes is so controlled that I have the blood glucose levels of a person that does not have diabetes,” she says.

Published in January 2020.