22 March 2023 – WHO published a new report Access to NCD Medicines: Emergent Issues During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Key Structural Factors, today, to highlight the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to noncommunicable disease (NCD) medicines, and the policies and strategies implemented by countries to anticipate and mitigate stresses across NCD medicine supply chains.
During the pandemic, people living with cancer, heart diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and other NCDs experienced difficulties in accessing their routine medicines. This report reviewed the impact of the pandemic on NCD medicines from manufacturing, procurement, importation, to delivery, availability and affordability.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges that people living with NCDs face in accessing essential medicines,” said Dr Bente Mikkelsen, Director of the Department of Noncommunicable Diseases at WHO. “Many have had their treatment disrupted, which can lead to serious health consequences. It is therefore very important not only that treatment and care for people living with NCDs are included in national responses and preparedness plans, but that innovative ways are found to implement those plans.
Numerous pharmaceutical supply chains were affected in different ways and to varying extents. The report also provides considerations for the key stakeholders in the NCD pharmaceutical supply chain, including governments, regulatory authorities, manufacturers, and the private sector, as well as directions for future research toward improved supply chain resilience.
There is an urgent need to improve the transparency of the overall pharmaceutical information ecology as a foundation for pandemic planning and response: if we are unable to identify weaknesses in the global NCD supply chain, we cannot hope to mend them. Without effective monitoring, transparent data, it is difficult to identify weaknesses in the global NCD supply chain. This requires countries to look at its supply chain, strengthen and expand medicine shortage notification systems, build in flexibility in its regularory measures and minimize barriers to trade.
“Actions are needed to strengthen the resilience of medicine supply chains globally and in country to respond to today’s needs and to prepare for emerging challenges, including emergencies and pandemics” said Dr Clive Ondari, Director Health products policy and standards.
Globally, more is spent on medicines for NCDs than any other therapeutic class. There is a need to continue to assess the successes and failures of the global supply chain toward improved NCD medicine access and services as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. Although a few short-term interventions were established to respond to immediate pandemic needs, a longer-term strategy to strengthen access and delivery mechanisms during emergencies and mitigate future outbreaks should be developed, with particular emphasis on ensuring the uninterrupted and sustainable provision of medicines and products needed to diagnose and treat chronic diseases. “Let’s not forget: COVID-19 may be out of sight, but access to NCD medicines is still out of reach for many” said Dr Mikkelsen.