WHO 69th World Health Assembly: Agenda item 16.4 – Addressing the global shortages of medicines, and the safety and accessibility of children’s medication
Speaker: Christa Cepuch
Sustained availability of quality-assured medicines is a global health priority. Multiple barriers -- from supply chain difficulties to manufacturing problems -- contribute to the failure of meeting that priority, resulting in stock outs of medicines that people often experience.
We welcome WHO’s work on addressing global shortages – which requires long-term structural solutions – but more must be done. There is a lack of quality-assured suppliers, resulting in major global shortages if one supplier stops production. These shortages are rooted in a market failure and can represent a significant health threat. In some cases, governments must address market monopolies, often patent related, wherein single suppliers cause supply insecurity.
We also urge more attention upon stock-outs, which have a direct impact on health and survival and cause mistrust in the health system. Our experience shows that life-saving HIV and TB medicines often don’t arrive where the patient is, despite availability in-country. Supply chain weaknesses must be addressed. Where there is weak ‘last-mile’ transport, the situation is worse. Uncoordinated changes in treatment guidelines increase the risk of stock outs. Stock outs are often not monitored, reported or reacted upon, leaving its scope and impact unknown.
We need common definitions for shortages and stock outs. We need indicators to measure the success of treatment programmes and supply lines that reflect how many people actually received the right amount of the correct medicines. We need systems to measure these indicators to ensure evaluation, prioritisation of high impact interventions and improvements. We need patients to report whether medicines arrive, especially if the health system does not. The real need at patient level is essential to assist national and global forecasting and prevent global shortages.
In conclusion, we need WHO, manufacturers and governments to find solutions to prevent and solve shortages and stock outs that work for all.