The shortage of medicines for children in Germany was avoidable – DW – 12/17/2022

A sick child holds his stomach
German doctors say the country’s pediatric units are on the brink of collapse due to a surge in infectionsImage: Color box

Anecdotally, I can tell you that astrology has become more popular lately. If you want data, Google Trends can back that up too. Sure, many of us talk about our zodiac signs “ironically,” saying it’s just for fun. But you wouldn’t know that if you saw me running to open my monthly horoscope email (especially during Sagittarius season).

It’s easy to make fun of people for looking at the stars for clues to future events. But the impulse is understandable when you look around and see how we’re swimming in hard data and facts, but preventable catastrophes seem to catch us by surprise anyway.

This has been the case with climate change, something scientists have warned about for decades. And it was the case with the pandemic, which experts had also predicted (as a side effect of climate change, so to speak). Now, Germany finds itself in a similar predicament dealing with a severe shortage of children’s medicine. Like a lot of news today, it may be shocking, but it’s not a surprise.

Children’s room crisis in Germany

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A shortage years in the making

For years, Germany has suffered from drug shortages. As an American transplant, I am forever grateful that living in Germany means access to universal healthcare. But it has not escaped me that more than once I have stopped receiving basic vaccinations during the trips back home, simply because Germany did not have any doses left.

So…how did we get here? Germany, like the rest of the world, has spent much of the last few years huddled at home, avoiding the coronavirus. The wave of other infections that would inevitably follow the lockdowns became a new topic of conversation with colleagues and friends.

Today, lockdowns have ended in most parts of the world, and that wave has finally collapsed. And it is those with the least developed immune systems, young children, who are being affected the most.

Many countries are experiencing a massive wave of respiratory illnesses, including the human respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a highly contagious virus that infects infants and young children. German doctors warn that increased demand for treatment has brought the country’s pediatric intensive care system to the brink of collapse.

Health authorities warn of COVID ‘twinodemic’, flu

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stop blaming other countries

Theoretically, we knew this was coming. But even so, we were surprised to learn of distraught parents who, seeking relief for their feverish babies, have been turned away from German hospitals and pharmacies. Among other basic medicines, children’s paracetamol and ibuprofen, which help relieve pain and fever, are in short supply, according to Germany’s Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices.

“It’s the supply chains!” some might yell, a refrain familiar to anyone working in business journalism during the pandemic. And yes, it is true that today China and India produce much of the world’s active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), a key component used in medicines, and that China’s commitment to its zero-covid policy continues to strain. the world economic order.

But supply chains did not cause demand for fever-reducing medicines like liquid ibuprofen to rise 800% compared to last year. Even a well-functioning system would have a hard time responding quickly to that kind of surge.

Headshot Kristie Pladson
DW Business reporter Kristie PladsonImage: Kristie Pladson

obsolete regulation

Neither were supply chains regulating drug prices in Germany. Price limits for drugs are a good idea. No one should fight for access to medical treatment. But a price cap for consumers in a largely free market environment leads to dilemmas like those now facing Germany, where drug prices have stayed roughly the same but production costs have risen significantly.

According to Pro Generika, a German maker of generic-brand medicines, manufacturers of children’s paracetamol have been paid €1.36 ($1.45) per bottle for about ten years. Meanwhile, the active ingredients have become 70% more expensive. Twelve years ago there were eleven manufacturers of children’s paracetamol in Germany; today there is only one.

There is a debate about the best way to ensure that people have access to the necessary medicines. For now, I would simply say that Germany should have read the writing on the wall. Human beings have never had more access to facts and knowledge. There’s a reason “follow the science” has become such a popular refrain. The science and the data are there. But when the institutions responsible for public welfare fail to follow through in a meaningful way, it will come as a shock, but not a surprise, that desperate people take less predictable paths. At least, that’s what my horoscope says.

Edited by: Ashutosh Pandey

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