Medicine shortage looms over coronavirus-hit Europe

File: Pills.

File: Pills. AFP/Justin Sullivan


AMSTERDAM - While the world waits for a coronavirus vaccine, medicines used to deal with the symptoms of the disease are increasingly in critically short supply in Europe, the worst-hit continent.

From sedatives needed to intubate patients struggling to breathe to anti-malarial drugs heavily backed by US President Donald Trump, the COVID-19 pandemic is eating up stocks.

The European Medicines Agency said that the "continued availability of medicines, in particular those used for patients with COVID-19, is of critical concern for EMA".

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"Some EU Member States have indicated that they are starting to see shortages of certain medicines used for patients with COVID-19 or are expecting such shortages to occur very soon," the Amsterdam-based regulator said in a statement. 

Europe is the continent most heavily affected by the disease and the strain is showing on hospitals dealing with a wave of patients suffering from coronavirus.

Nine major European hospitals launched an appeal for help at the end of March, asking for international cooperation to guarantee a steady supply of medicines for the disease.

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They warned in particular of a shortage of vital drugs for the resuscitation of patients including muscle relaxants, sedatives and painkillers, which are being used up rapidly with "insufficient or non-existent" restocking because of the pandemic.

Doctors in Italy, the country hardest-hit by the virus, also warned last week that limited stocks of the two drugs could wreck plans to use them in clinical trials. 

Similar concerns have been raised about a combination of two HIV drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir.


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