Is there a shortage of medication in Switzerland?

Is there a shortage of medication in Switzerland?
Injections and other drugs are in short supply. Photo by RICHARD JUILLIART / AFP
As the number of coronavirus cases reaches nearly 15,000 cases, and 280 people are currently on respirators in Swiss hospitals, there are concerns that drugs essential for treating Covid-19 patients could be in short supply. What are the health authorities doing to solve the problem?

“The supply of drugs today is worrying. With the number of patients who are hospitalised in intensive care, this really poses very significant challenges”, Pascal Bonnabry, the chief pharmacist of the Geneva University Hospital (HUG) told RTS television.

Which medications are in short supply?

Bonnabry claimed Switzerland will start to run out of anesthetics needed to intubate the most critical patients, so that they can be placed on respirators.

The reason for the dwindling supply the pharmacist said is that not enough reserves were stocked to handle the massive and unpredictable demand linked to the Covid-19.

“Our main concern and task right now is to find required medicines to fight against coronavirus”, said Farshid Sadeghipour, chef pharmacist at the Cantonal University Hospital (CHUV) in Lausanne.

At this time, both CHUV and HUG, which are the two largest hospitals in Switzerland, have enough reserves for another two weeks. Doctors have already started to adjust duration and dosages of anesthetic drugs to avoid overuse and subsequent shortage.

Faced with the gravity of the situation, the government has set up a national strategy: a special group “will make contact with all the hospitals to know if it is possible to organise exchanges between them”, said Daniel Koch head of the communicable diseases division of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). 

Are there restrictions on any other drugs?

Last week, the Federal Council limited the purchase of drugs based on paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen, and codeine to one package per customer.

The federal government wants to release pain-relieving medications and antibiotics from the compulsory stockpile, said Ueli Haudenschild of the Federal Office for National Economic Supply in an interview with Swiss radio SRF. 

However, since antibiotics are currently scarce on the market anyway, the government stockpile may not be able to fulfill all the needs.

READ MORE: Switzerland to limit sales of painkillers during coronavirus crisis 

What is being done to avoid any shortage of the most vital medications?

According to Bonnabry, Swiss hospitals are equipped to produce a certain number of injectable drugs, but lack active substances to manufacture them.

However, two Swiss pharmaceutical companies, Sintetica in Mendrisio (TI) and Bichsel in Interlaken (BE), are now exclusively dedicated to the production of the soon-to-be-scare medicines. “They started to set up a large system to be able to produce a few essential drugs for the treatment of Covid-19”, Sadeghipour said.

What exactly is this stockpile? 

The National Economic Supply Act mandates that certain essential goods are stockpiled by the government for emergencies. 

Regarding medications, “sufficient stocks of anti-infective drugs to treat all common infectious diseases are kept to last for five to six months. 

A compulsory stock of virostatics is held in case of a flu pandemic. Strong painkillers to cover requirements for three months are stocked, and since 1 October 2016 selected vaccines have also been stockpiled. 

There are supplementary stocks of haemostatics, insulins and various medical products. Veterinary medicines are stocked for two months of average consumption”.


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