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Medicines availability for people living with diabetes decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic

20 December 2021

Medicines shortages is a growing concern in many countries. The quality and continuity of patient care are severely jeopardised by shortages. At best, patients can receive an equivalent medicine, but if no such equivalent is available, pharmacists may have to resort to therapeutic substitution. This can lead to reduced treatment compliance or incorrect use of the medicine, resulting in lower treatment effectiveness and disease progression. Substitutes may also pose an increased risk or incidence of adverse events. In the worst case, there may be no suitable alternatives.

Shortages also have economic consequences as pharmacists spend several hours per week on finding suitable alternatives and sourcing them. Patients also incur higher costs associated with receiving alternatives and scheduling additional medical appointments. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated problems with availability of medicines and exposed vulnerabilities in pharmaceutical supply chains.

The European Commission (EC) contracted a consortium of organisations to provide an overview of medicines shortages in the EU, assess whether the current framework at EU and national level is fit for purpose to address the issue of shortages, and provide potential solutions to address shortages, taking into account their root causes and the shortcomings of the current system.

The study analysed data from the national shortage registries of 22 EU/EEA countries between 2007-2020. For example, analysis of shortage notifications made during the final two quarters of 2019 (‘pre-COVID-19’) and the first two quarters of 2020 (‘first wave COVID-19’) highlighted a strong increase in the number of shortage notifications for diabetes medicines. To tackle medicines shortages for people living with diabetes and other chronic conditions and improve access to patient care, the report outlined 16 solutions. These solutions collectively cover areas related to the collection and sharing of data and information between parties, supply chain issues, market issues and mitigation strategies.

According to our Diabetes and COVID-19 report, apart from medicines shortages and delays in getting supplies of insulin and metformin, availability of technologies such as sensors and test strips was also hampered. All proxy indicators of diabetes management, including changes in weight and physical activity, effectiveness of self-management, and fluctuations in blood sugar levels, suggest that people living with diabetes were less able to manage their diabetes well during COVID-19 than prior to the pandemic. In building back better, it is critical to ensure uninterrupted access to diabetes medicines, supplies and technologies at all times.

The full report on the study of medicines shortages in the EU is available here.