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COVID affected access to essential medicines for cancer, heart diseases: WHO

IANS Mar 23, 2023

During the COVID pandemic, people living with cancer, heart diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and other noncommunicable disease (NCD) experienced difficulties in accessing their routine medicines, according to a new report published by the World Health Organisation on March 22.

The report reviewed the impact of the pandemic on NCD medicines from manufacturing, procurement, and 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, in a statement.

"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," he added.

Numerous pharmaceutical supply chains were affected in different ways and to varying extent. 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, the report said.

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 regulatory measures and minimise barriers to trade.

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, the report said.

There should also be 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.

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