Medicine shortages in Europe remain a problem


by Matthias Bertrand
published on Wednesday November 8, 2023 to 21:22
4 min read

Hundreds, sometimes thousands of products are in short supply in European pharmacies. This is due to the dependence of our markets on a few large international producers, in Asia or the US. These medicine shortages will be the spearhead of the Belgian presidency of the European Union.

The context: The countries of the European Union have been confronted with repeated medicine shortages for months, a situation that does not appear to be going away on its own. This is due to “a combination of factors, including increasing demand (particularly for essential medicines), economic inflation and international geopolitical unrest,” the report said. European Pharmaceutical Review (EPR).

Medicine shortages

  • The pharmaceutical industry is particularly unresilient. Supply chains are fragile and have been severely tested during the pandemic.
  • A recent analysis by ING Think on this topic points to a shortage of American lobsters, or horseshoe crabs. These animals are farmed for their blood, as this is the only natural source of an essential ingredient in many medicines.
  • Not all countries are affected equally, but they are all affected. The EU keeps a register of the situation per country. And some drug shortages are seriously affecting the population.
    • In France, almost 4,000 products are currently sold out or at risk of being sold out. This includes amoxicillin (a commonly used antibiotic) and cortisone, but also anti-cancer agents, blood pressure lowering agents, painkillers and diabetes medications.
    • Nearly 300 medicines for human use are in short supply in Belgium. lists 263 drugs that are no longer on the market. According to a study by TestAankoop published in August last year, 43 percent of households have already experienced medicine shortages in the pharmacy.

Belgium is taking matters into its own hands

The future: Our country will hold the rotating presidency of the EU from January. Medicine shortages will be the first major struggle for Belgium.

  • The Belgian government, in collaboration with 23 other EU member states, has submitted a proposal to establish a law on essential medicines (CMA).
  • The development and adoption of this law should prevent shortages. And that would be one of the major priorities of the Belgian presidency, according to Euractiv.
  • Our country proposes to include the production of medicines and critical components in the Platform for Strategic Technologies for Europe (STEP). This should serve to strengthen the EU’s competitive position and resilience.
  • As early as May last year, our country proposed to its partners to set up a system for the exchange of scarce medicines. Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) had already emphasized the vulnerability of the EU. Few medicines are still produced within the Union. A fact that he recently emphasized again.

“Today’s challenges are part of a broader trend. The over-reliance on a limited number of global producers has made Europe vulnerable to market disruptions and shortages.”

Frank Vandenbroucke, Minister of Health


The article is in Dutch


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