The message is loud and clear.
Adverts across Sweden tell patients with chronic diseases to make sure they have at least a month’s supply of medicines at home. “Self-preparedness is part of society’s work to secure patients’ access to medicines,” the country’s Board of Health and Welfare states online.
The campaign is part of Sweden’s bid to prevent a repeat of the dangerous drug shortages faced across Europe last winter. But it’s been lambasted by experts who warn that it could, in fact, increase pressure on medicines supplies both within the country and across the Continent.
Over the past year, political pressure has been mounting on the EU to come up with a bloc-wide way to deal with the problem of medicines shortages, with European leaders set to discuss the issue at an informal meeting in the Spanish city of Granada on Friday.
But until a coordinated response becomes reality, countries are taking their own steps to solve the issue ahead of another cold season with its wedded viruses and bacterial infections.
Germany, for example, has imposed mandatory stockpiles of at least six months’ supplies of drugs for all manufacturers — another move criticized for its short-sightedness.
“We are talking about billions of packages that need to be stocked that are sitting somewhere,” said Victor Mendonça, head of policy and market access at Medicines for Europe. “Most of them are not going to be utilized,” he told delegates at the European Health Forum Gastein last week.
Hoarding and stockpiling of medicines, at the patient and country level, “at the end of the day, it will lead to waste. It will lead to destruction of medicines,” Mendonça said.
Last year’s drug stockouts — which were caused by a combination of a post-COVID surge in infections and manufacturers caught unprepared for rocketing demand — have focused minds both in Brussels and in national capitals.
For Sweden, the situation is especially critical as the country has been consistently plagued by stockouts, not just in the flu season. The latest data from market analysis firm IQVIA for September placed the country in the worst position in Europe, with 827 reported drug shortages, compared with 18 in Greece, 31 in France, and 58 in Bulgaria.
But the country’s strategy is “very risky” and “slightly dangerous,” said Per Troein of IQVIA, speaking at the Gastein event. Creating panic among patients and unnecessary hoarding only serves to exacerbate the problem the campaign is intended to prevent, he suggested.
That’s because in Sweden anyone with a chronic disease is issued with a script that can be filled four times over a year, each time receiving three months’ supply. Urging people to stock up now will result in three months’ supplies suddenly disappearing from the pharmacies’ shelves all at once, he pointed out.
Since wholesalers typically have one month’s supply in warehouses, Sweden will most likely have up to 300 more shortages in a couple of months, Troein said.
In May, 19 countries led by the Belgian government put forward a position paper urging the EU to take action on drugs shortages by proposing a critical medicines act to encourage production of certain drugs and their raw ingredients in the bloc.
While that hasn’t yet materialized — as it requires a careful assessment of the trade and industrial dimensions, according to Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides — other EU-level action is in the works.
On Tuesday, Kyriakides announced the Commission will establish a “voluntary solidarity mechanism” to enable the movement of medicines across borders. The idea is to allow countries to exchange and donate medicines when there are shortages, something that’s difficult to do at the moment because of differences in dosing, formulations, licensing and languages.
Details of how the mechanism will work and when it will be available are thin. But the commissioner said the tool will be up and running “this winter,” helping to tackle the shortage of medicines “in a coordinated and timely way.”
In addition, the European Medicines Agency is developing a list of critical medicines by the end of the year to spot shortages as they occur and to help identify and coordinate available alternatives. The EU is also “looking at the possibility of stockpiling” at the bloc level, as well as possibly revising joint procurement, Kyriakides told MEPs on Tuesday, without sharing any further details on what this would entail.
It’s all fuel for European leaders as they meet on Friday for an informal meeting on the issue. But a coordinated response will take time. And with the winter bug season just around the corner, the clock is ticking.
Source : Politico