How the EU Supports Medicine Availability

No one can argue that these are not prosperous times that we are living. We now have access to all sorts of products and services on demand that have dramatically increased our living standards. This prosperity inevitably led to increased life expectancy for various reasons, but mainly due to broader medicine availability and quality healthcare provision.

But 2020, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, showed emphatically that nothing in life should be taken for granted. Prosperity and the subsequent life standards that we enjoy are the results of a fine-tuned machine. In that case of a healthy economy with undisturbed production lines and supply chains. When it comes to the availability of medicine, any disruption in the production, supply or distribution of medicines creates a worrying situation that puts many lives in danger.

The Importance of Medicine Availability

Medicine shortages cause serious problems that threaten patients and limits the patient care they receive in hospitals. Medicines are not just some tradeable goods, but they are essential for patient care in hospitals. In many cases, patients need to receive those medicines on time as part of their treatment. Failure to do so can have significant clinical consequences in severe cases like cancer or psychosis.

Furthermore, managing medicine shortages is crucial to maintain high-quality medical care and keep medical bills low. Medicine availability allows doctors and hospital personnel to focus on their important mission of providing quality healthcare instead of micromanaging and worrying about medicinal supplies. In medicine shortages, doctors must choose between using a more expensive medicine or a less effective one.

How the EU deals with Medicine Shortages

Understanding the impact of medicine shortages, the EU, through the European Medicines Agency (EMA), has set up a task force since 2016 that oversees availability issues across Europe. The HMA/EMA Task Force on the Availability of Authorised Medicines for Human and Veterinary Use has the following key priorities:

  • Minimise supply disruptions and avoid shortages by facilitating approval and marketing of medicines using the existing regulatory framework
  • Develop strategies to improve the prevention and management of shortages caused by disruptions in the supply chain
  • Encourage best practices within the pharmaceutical industry to prevent shortages
  • Improve information sharing and best practices among EU regulatory authorities to better coordinate actions across the EU
  • Foster collaboration with stakeholders and improve communication of supply problems to EU citizens.

This task force builds upon EMA’s previous work that set high standards for the EU market’s medicines through good manufacturing practice (GMP).

However, as counterintuitive as it may sound, establishing the GMP standards impacts medicine availability on its own. GMP requires medicines to be:

In that case, we deal with technical shortages of medicines on the basis of European patients’ protection. At the same time, it safeguards the provision of effective, safe, and high-quality treatments.

Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries started going into lockdowns to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. As a result, transportation between countries was stopped or limited. This affected the supply and distribution of essential medicines, while manufacturing did not remain unaffected.

Simultaneously, as COVID-19 cases started soaring worldwide, so did the demand for medicines or medical devices to treat COVID patients. Suddenly, there was a sharp demand for ventilators, anaesthetics, antibiotics and muscle relaxants in shortage. Besides, shortages there were also shortages in protective equipment like surgical masks, gloves and personal protective equipment (PPE) that made doctors’ work even harder.

EU Doubles Contribution to COVAX

In the spirit of combatting medicine shortages, the EU recently doubled its contribution to COVAX from €500m to €1 billion. As the demand for COVID vaccines is rising worldwide, so is the effort for manufacturing, supplying, and distributing those vaccines everywhere in the world. COVAX was created to help develop and produce vaccines for SARS-COV-2 and that there will be no economic barriers to accessing them.  

As COVID has caused the loss of millions of lives worldwide and still impacts the lives of billions and the global economy for $375 billion every month, COVAX plays a critical role in meeting the demand for vaccines. The vaccination of an adequate percentage of the population is necessary for things to get back to normal. COVAX is key to delivering those vaccines, especially to low-income countries of the world.

The Contribution of iED to Health

2020 was undoubtedly a troubling and, at the same time, busy year concerning health as far as iED is concerned. In 2020 Institute of Entrepreneurship Development (iED), along with its valued partners, received approval for establishing a Health Hub under the name of “Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Industry Transformation through Artificial Intelligence Digital Services”. This Health Hub will lead to the digital transformation of healthcare leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI). Additionally, it will address all major stakeholders’ needs in the healthcare ecosystem and promoting synergies and international cooperation.

Finally, the EU’s fight for medicine availability and iED’s Health Hub have a common denominator for EU patients’ wellbeing. Health Hub’s digital transformation efforts will enhance the Greek healthcare sector’s provision of quality healthcare.

If you are interested to learn more about the Health Hub, or you would like iED to be your next partner in your health-related project, do not hesitate to contact us.

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Vasilis Bouronikos
Content & Communication Manager

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