COVID-19: Is there a risk of running out of medicine?

The crisis that led to the outbreak of the new coronavirus has already left its mark on the world economy. Now, some experts warn that it could also lead to shortages of certain drugs. Pharmaceutical companies are buying up many of the active ingredients that are manufactured in China and India, so production stoppages and export blockades in recent weeks could significantly limit remittances.

The Indian Government, for example, has restricted sales to other countries of 26 of these active ingredients - one of the reasons for this decision is that around 70% of the pharmaceutical ingredients that its industry receives come from China. The aim, according to the authorities, is to protect against a possible shortage of drugs. One of those affected is paracetamol.

The initiative has huge implications, as India produces 26% of Europe's generic medicines and 24% of those in the United States. In fact, in a letter to the European Medicines Agency, the umbrella organisation of the major generic pharmaceutical firms in the Old Continent, Medicines for Europe (MFE), indicates that this situation will have a major impact on supplies if it drags on. In this letter, MFE points out that the risk is currently limited, as companies are working on a margin and some have made an additional stockpile for the celebration of the New Year in China. However, if there is a shortage of active ingredients, this could impact on their price, which would increase. "This would have a side effect on the cost of pharmaceutical production goods globally," says MFE.

No incidents in Spain

The head of the Spanish Association of Generic Medicines (AESEG) assures that for the moment there have been no incidents arising from the supply and that the companies that are in contact with the regulatory bodies are very committed to the situation. For its part, the European Federation of Innovative Pharmaceutical Industries (Efpia) stresses that its members are working to avoid possible supply shortages. AbbVie, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Roche and Genentech, GSK, Janssen and Sanofi made financial donations and donated drugs that could potentially be effective against coronaviruses.

A study by the Moody's risk rating agency, analysing the impact of this crisis on the pharmaceutical industry, shows that, although it is being more significant in China, there will be consequences at a global level. The market in that country is key for pharmaceutical companies, so the economic slowdown resulting from this scenario will have an impact on the income statement. Another sector that depends on the Asian giant is one of the medical devices, as the chips they use are usually produced in China. Moody's experts say that if the outbreak is not contained quickly, "shortages of such items could lead to disruptions in the supply chain just as demand begins to rise.

Disinfectant masks and gels under control

France was one of the first countries to take measures to ensure the supply of hydroalcoholic disinfectant masks and gels. Thus, the French government has fixed by decree the price of the latter -whose demand has shot up since the appearance of the new coronavirus- in order to avoid an escalation of it and has promoted a legal initiative that allows the authorities to requisition the mentioned masks and reserve them to be used only by the sick and the health personnel. He has not been the only one to act in this way. The German Government has announced the blocking of exports of various medical products, including the aforementioned masks, but also gloves, protective suits and other materials that it considers necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus throughout its territory, especially in medical centres.

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