Medicine shortages are now impacting almost all classes of pharmaceuticals and the situation will drag into the new year, according to a medicine distributor and industry expert.

“I am afraid that, from January, I may not have anything to supply,” said Mario Debono, AlphaFarma owner and chairman of the Pharmacy, Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Sectors at the Chamber of SMEs.

Everyone is pleading with suppliers for medicines but the shortage isn’t just in the EU. It’s all over the world.- Mario Debono, importer of pharmaceuticals

While shortages of antibiotics have been widely reported, other medicines, including analgesics, cough medicines and antivirals are also in short supply, Debono told Times of Malta yesterday. 

Stocks of insulin and medications used to treat ADHD, while not currently as low, are approaching similar levels, he said. 

“Everyone is pleading with suppliers for medicines but the shortage isn’t just in the EU. It’s all over the world. The situation is alarming but local wholesalers and suppliers are not to blame,” he said, adding that a concerted effort was being made to source products. 

Sourcing from India and China nearly impossible

Shortages are being attributed to bans and unofficial controls on exports.

Earlier this month, the UK banned exports of antibiotics including amoxicillin, cefalexin and phenoxymethylpenicillin. The medications were restricted for export due to fears of a shortage, following a recent surge in Strep A cases in the country.

While no formal ban has been introduced in China and India, two countries vital to the global pharmaceutical supply chain, Debono reports sourcing drugs from these countries as “very difficult to impossible”.

Both countries are key suppliers of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and generic medicines.

Ukraine has traditionally been a large supplier of insulin API. The war has not only damaged supply chains but also heightened fear generally in Europe, meaning countries are less willing to let go of stock, said Debono when asked about the effects of the war on global supplies.

Times of Malta reported yesterday that eight weekly out-of-stock reports were missing from the Pharmacy of Your Choice (POYC) Unit website, which has not been updated since November. At least 25 medications that fall under POYC scheme were listed as being out of stock.

'Money can't solve this problem'

“Criticism of the government’s efforts to source pharmaceuticals is unfair – we have the same problems in the private market. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and I can tell you that the government has been doing everything it can. All the money in the world cannot solve this problem,” said Debono, when asked about the issue.

The chairperson of the Malta Medicines Authority, Anthony Serracino-Inglott, admitted concern over the shortage of ADHD medication because these drugs cannot be easily substituted for each other. “The consequences of not taking these medications can be very serious,” he said.

ADHD is a common disorder associated with hyperactivity, impulsivity and reduced attention.

Last October, Times of Malta reported that patients with ADHD are being forced to pay hundreds of euros for medication that is usually supplied free of charge by the government.

Serracino Inglott said the authority is looking into empowering pharmacies to provide substitute medicines for any medicines that might be out of stock.

When asked about shortages of other medications, Serracino-Inglott did not comment.

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