Health before profit: Belgian chemists call out Big Pharma over drug shortage in hospitals

Health before profit: Belgian chemists call out Big Pharma over drug shortage in hospitals
Belgian health professionals warn that drug shortages pose serious public health risks. Credit: Pixabay

Drug shortages of essential antibiotics in Belgian hospitals pose serious public health risks and are the responsibility of the pharmaceutical industry, who must put the drugs' availability before profit, Belgian healthcare representatives said in an open letter published on Monday.

The letter, published by Le Soir, follows previous reports that Belgian pharmacies were short of 450 prescription medicines, and comes after that number was brought to 497 by the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (FAMHP) on Monday.

"We ask pharmaceutical companies to assume their responsibility and to make the uninterrupted availability of treatments they have developed a priority — whether [doing so] is profitable or not," the letter read.

The signatories of the letter expressed concern after the firm that manufactures intravenous Amoxicillin said it could only produce 40% of the supply of the antibiotic that hospitals need every year, a situation which they say underscores a bigger problem in hospitals across Europe.

"Whether temporary or permanent, drug shortages constitute a serious public health concern," the letter says.

While the signatories acknowledge that public health authorities are working to find a solution, they make a point of denouncing the role played by the pharmaceutical industry.

"We want to loudly and clearly state that, ultimately, sufficient availability of drugs is the responsibility of the Pharmaceutical Industry," the signatories write. "We insist that cheap [drugs], sometimes unprofitable but essential for patients, are kept in the market."

"We know that pharmaceutical firms are held to strict profitability requirements and that price negotiations can be difficult. We appeal to their goodwill and ask them to find a comprehensive solution to this major problem at the European level," the letter continues.

"GSK [the company that manufactures the intravenous Amoxicillin] will have to be transparent and explain how it can have a shortage of an antibiotic that was created nearly 50 years ago," a medical professional in Liège's University Hospital told Le Soir.

"The shortage will force clinicians to use broad-spectrum antibiotics (...) this is contrary to all the basic principles of the proper use of antibiotics," he added.

The company said that their own shortage of the drug came after their supplier in Austria delivered lower quantities of the medication's active principle.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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