Coronavirus is interrupting medical supply chain, experts warn

17 August 2020

Governments must ensure the procurement and supply of controlled medicines meets the needs of both Covid-19 and non-Covid patients, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. 

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) joined WHO to reinforce the message that access to essential health services and medications should not be “forgotten or de-prioritised” during the pandemic.

The organisations said that while controlled medicines such as sedatives and analgesics were used for the treatment of Covid-19 patients, they were also necessary for the management of pain and palliative care, surgical care and anaesthesia, mental health and neurological conditions, and for the treatment of drug use disorders.

Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, patients had faced barriers to accessing controlled medicines, but the pandemic had resulted in “further interruptions of the medicines supply chain”. 

As a result, the organisations warned it is “critical that governments work cooperatively to ensure that no country, no region, no district, no city and no patient is left behind” when accessing essential medicines. 

“Competent national authorities, manufacturers, suppliers and distributors play a crucial role in ensuring that internationally controlled medicines urgently needed for medical treatment are available within and across national borders,” they said.

“The supply chain is the foundation of quality medical care because without the necessary supplies, including essential controlled medicines, patients will suffer.”

The organisations added that in acute emergencies, it was possible to “utilise simplified control procedures for the export, transportation and supply of medicinal products containing controlled substances”.

They added countries should ease Covid-19 related transport restrictions for controlled medicines and consider local production solutions when feasible, to meet the coronavirus-driven demand spikes.

“INCB, WHO and UNODC are committed to continue to work together to address this critical issue and will expand joint efforts to engage with other partners and increase advocacy and technical assistance to countries for improving access to controlled medicines during the Covid-19 pandemic and mitigate barriers to ensure that both patients affected by Covid-19 or by other non-Covid-related conditions requiring medicines under international control have access to these medicines when they need them,” they said. 

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