When an urgently needed medication is no longer available, things can become critical. The Association of Pharmacists sees two main reasons for such supply bottlenecks.

“More than 250 agents are currently reported as not being able to be delivered,” said the association’s vice-chairman, Hans-Peter Hubmann, of the German Press Agency before the World Patient Safety Day, which was celebrated on Saturday. “The problem is very important, you have to say that clearly.”

“There are always delivery bottlenecks because a producer fails, but the amount and length of the failure has become much more dramatic,” said Hubmann. Five years ago, less than half as many products were affected. There are problems not only with niche products, but also common remedies for high blood pressure and diabetes or painkillers such as ibuprofen were not available at times.

While in many cases an alternative drug with the same or a similar active ingredient can be found with some effort, sometimes there is no alternative that can be offered to the patient. “In April and May we had an absolute shortage of the breast cancer drug tamoxifen,” reported Hubmann. A risk for the women affected: “You never know when the time bomb will go off, so your health is at risk there.”

According to Hubmann, there are many causes, but two stand out: “On the one hand, there is the reduction in production diversity in Europe.” Almost all suppliers stopped producing fever juice because the production was no longer economical due to the fixed prices and the pressure on the tills be. “Now there’s another one and it can’t handle the crowd.”

“The other cause is supply chain disruptions,” said Hubmann. The active ingredients are now mainly manufactured in the Far East, especially in China and India. If factories are closed there because of Corona or freighters are no longer allowed to call at the ports, even those finished medicines that are manufactured in Europe will ultimately be missing from the shelves of local pharmacies. Sometimes supplies could also not be used due to contamination.

“That’s why we have been demanding for a long time that the production of active ingredients must take place in Europe again,” emphasized Hubmann. Politicians urgently need to create the conditions for this. But even if approval procedures were to go through more quickly, cost pressure was reduced and production in Europe became more profitable again – “that doesn’t happen overnight”. Hubmann said it would take at least five to ten years for the appropriate structures to be set up.

Bavaria’s Health Minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) immediately called for more speed in the task of combating supply bottlenecks for medicines through better framework conditions. “The EU and the federal government urgently need to strengthen domestic production – in Germany and in the EU states in general. To do this, we have to quickly stabilize and diversify the supply chains,” he said in Munich on Friday.

In addition, the bureaucracy must be kept small – “and we can specifically promote intra-European production, for example through discount agreements. The goal must be to strengthen the EU as a business location, but also Germany as a business location,” says Holetschek. A mandatory multiple award of generics, i.e. imitation products with similar active ingredients, is also conceivable in order to avoid failures of individual manufacturers.

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