Curb export bans or risk medicine shortages, EU says

Export bans and other restrictions should be lifted to avoid risk to the supply of vital medicines during the coronavirus outbreak, the European Commission (EC) has said.

The EC said the pandemic has highlighted significant challenges in ensuring the provision of the critical medicines, and the impact such an outbreak can have on the supply chain of medicines in the EU.

It added a more coordinated approach across the EU would preserve the integrity of the single market while also protecting public health. 

The EC called on member states to show solidarity by lifting export bans and restrictions, to make sure essential medicines are available in hospitals and pharmacies and to avoid national stockpiling. Authorities should also fight misinformation that could lead to unnecessary stockpiling and panic buying, it recommended.

The commission also suggested that states increase and reorganise production through the monitoring of stocks and production capacities, and the coordination of efforts by industry and implementing demand support and procurement initiatives was strongly encouraged. 

It added it was ready to provide guidance to members wanting to use state aid and flexible regulation to help industry increase manufacturing.

The risk of shortages is mainly due to the heightened demand for medicines to treat coronavirus patients in hospitals, according to the commission. 

Stockpiling by the public, an increased demand for experimental medicines to tackle Covid-19, the introduction of protectionist measures within and outside the EU, such as export bans and national stockpiling, as well as transportation barriers between countries, are also adding to risk.

Commissioner Stella Kyriakides, in charge of health and food safety, said the unprecedented crisis was putting healthcare systems under enormous strain and essential medicine stocks were running low in many European hospitals.

“We cannot afford to have shortages of life-saving medicines at such a critical moment,” she said. 

“We are presenting concrete actions to member states to proactively prevent shortages and ensure that our hospitals have the essential medicines needed to save lives. I call on the solidarity and responsibility of the EU pharmaceutical industry to increase the production of medicines needed to treat seriously ill coronavirus patients.”

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