Belgian chemists first raised this issue at the end of last year, but the situation has gone from bad to worse. Often alternative drugs are available, but for some people there simply is no solution.
The shortage includes drugs that thin your blood, antibiotics as well as products used for the treatment of complex heart failure.
Reasons for the shortage are varied. Sometimes there is a lack of raw materials. Other times products don’t meet quality norms and are rejected. Chemists also point to commercial reasons: sometimes the shortage is due to the way producers and distributers serve various international markets. Lieven Zwaenepoel of the chemists’ association notes this is not purely motivated by need. Commercial considerations also play a role.
Chemists are very unhappy with the situation. Day in day out they are having to turn customers away. If no alternative is available health issues arise. Belgium recently introduced legislation requiring wholesalers to deal with domestic demand first before exporting drugs, but not all the paperwork has been done to ensure the law operates effectively. International measures are also needed. Shortages exist in neighbouring countries too. Belgian chemists say that the European commission should look at public health first before prioritising free movement of goods.
Chemists warn against panic that can only lead to hoarding and make the situation worse.
Belgium’s federal medicines agency says around 4.5 to 5% of drugs are usually unavailable and stresses that during the past two years no alternative was found for only five medicines. In such cases experts are consulted to decide how to handle the available supplies.