The supply of vital medicines in Switzerland has been undercut in the last two years by a series of global accidents and events. These include a recent fire at a production plant in China, as well as Hurricane Earl in Puerto Rico in 2016.
Enea Martinelli, head of the Interlaken pharmacy chain which supplies Swiss hospitals, told Swiss daily Blick that at least 388 medications are currently in short supply in Switzerland. These include ibuprofen tablets – standard painkillers – the heart medication Aspirin Cardio or the asthma spray Ventolin.
The shortfall of medicines has now leapt to over 400. "Following the withdrawal of some valsartan supplements, the number of non-deliverable medicines in Switzerland jumps to 402. The situation will not get better soon either," tweeted Martinelli, citing a "domino" effect under the hashtag #drugshortage.
The latest shortage of antihypertensive drugs, which have been withdrawn from the market, is due to the contamination of valsartan by a Chinese manufacturer, reports German news portal HNA.
The consequences will fall on the shoulders of patients and doctors. "In the worst case, you have to switch to another drug," Martinelli told Blick. "This will result in more doctor visits and higher costs - so it has a huge list of consequences."
Such high shortages are a "record," says Martinelli, although the problem is now new.
"It is problematic that permanently important products are missing. But it's not like this has just peaked – we've been witnessing the situation for about two years now," said Ueli Haudenschild, head of The Federal Office of Economic Land Supply.
At least 20 times in the past year alone antibiotics have been found to lack specific active ingredients, says Haudenschild. Because the drugs are produced at a limited number of plants worldwide, any interruption to production can cause global shortages.
For example, a hurricane in Puerto Rico two years ago or a recent fire at a plant in China paralyzed production of key drugs, affecting the entire pharmaceutical industry, reports Swiss national news broadcaster SRF.
Switzerland has enough domestic stockpiles in reserve to weather any brief shortage, but there is a longer term problem.
"We have a huge problem with vaccines and we want to build up the compulsory stocks," says Haudenschild. The catch-22 however is that if the products are not available on the market, stockpiles cannot be replenished.