Access to NCD Medicine Needs to be Protected in Future Pandemics

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people living with cancer, heart diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) experienced difficulties in accessing their routine medicines, according to a new report released by the World Health Organization on Wednesday.

While 21% of WHO member states reported stockouts of the five many medicines for people with NCDs, only 4% of high-income countries were affected whereas a third of low-and middle-income countries were affected.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges that people living with NCDs face in accessing essential medicines,” said Dr Bente Mikkelsen, the WHO’s NCD Director.

“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.”

Numerous pharmaceutical supply chains were affected, according to the WHO, which called for improvement of “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 WHO noted in a statement on Wednesday.

“Without effective monitoring and transparent data, it is difficult to identify weaknesses in the global NCD supply chain. This requires countries to look at their supply chain, strengthen and expand medicine shortage notification systems, build in flexibility in their regulatory measures and minimize barriers to trade.”

Globally, more is spent on medicines for NCDs than any other therapeutic class. 

Although a few short-term interventions were adopted to respond to pandemic needs, the WHO wants “a longer-term strategy to strengthen access and delivery mechanisms during emergencies and mitigate future outbreaks”.

 “Let’s not forget: COVID-19 may be out of sight, but access to NCD medicines is still out of reach for many,” said Mikkelsen.

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