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The Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products, AEMPS, defines distribution entities as a link of great importance within the pharmaceutical chain to maintain the guarantees of quality and integrity of the medicines they supply, from their manufacture to their dispensing. Its value has been widely demonstrated during the worst moments of the health crisis caused by Covid-19, at which time the role played by these entities has been crucial to continue providing an essential health service to citizens.
But, in the event of a new health crisis, who and how could guarantee the medicines? This has been one of the main topics that several experts have debated in the first European Forum on Pharmaceutical Distribution, held on June 4. In this virtual meeting Monika Dereque-Pois, general director of the European Pharmaceutical Distribution Association (GIRP), Nuno Cardoso, president of ADIFA, -Portuguese association of pharmaceutical distribution-, and Carlos Varela, director of Cofares and vice president of the GIRP, have talked about him decisive role that this activity plays against shortages, and its ability to guarantee delivery at any point and in a short space of time.
As Varela himself has indicated, during this meeting of experts organized by Cofares, “the distribution has made it possible to fulfill the function of maintaining reserve stocks”. A crucial role that the health crisis has revealed in the different European countries. According to Nuno Cardoso, “we have had the ability to respond to a situation as complicated as the one generated by the Covid-19 health crisis, guaranteeing the arrival of medicines on time at all times.”
Guarantee framework in Europe
Maintaining the quality of any drug until it reaches the patient is critical, and therefore its distribution and marketing are processes that must be highly regulated. In this sense, the European Commission designed last November a Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe that aims to cover two basic objectives: to guarantee patient access to affordable medicines and promote the competitiveness, innovation and sustainability of the EU pharmaceutical industry.
The strategy, which is under review and awaits a vote in the European Parliament this summer, has been a question in demand from pharmaceutical distribution for some time. It includes some proposals such as participation in pharmacovigilance work, or the authorization of new drugs; And it is that pharmacies can play a decisive role if there is a good monitoring of how medicines work, to avoid, for example, the shortage of medicines among the population, or allow the access of hospital drugs through these establishments, such and as the Portuguese representative pointed out in the Forum, something that would contribute to improving the quality of life of patients.
To avoid the shortage of any type of drugs, it is necessary to regularize the medicine verification systems, according to Dereque-Pois, and respond to the demand of patients since pharmacies sell what they have. However, the Covid-19 crisis has revealed that the needs may be even greater.
In parallel, you have to ensure equal access to medicines. In this regard, the professional figure of the pharmacist is also crucial. This was reflected in the workshop ‘Equal access to medicines and therapies’ held on May 26 of this year, organized by the ENVI Health Working Group of the European Parliament.
It must be borne in mind that a drug is not a consumer good and requires special protection. In this scenario, pharmacists offer rigorous information, and also represent an essential support in the face of the saturation of primary and hospital care. Pharmacy is a fundamental part of access to health, as has been clear since the beginning of the pandemic.
Thus, as highlighted in said workshop Eduardo Pastor, president of Cofares, the binomial formed by pharmacy and distribution is in the ‘last mile’, in continuous contact with the user, in a completely safe way. “This principle should never be forgotten: provide medicines, yes. But let’s always do it through expert hands ”, he stated.
New challenges of distribution
During their speeches at the first European Forum on Pharmaceutical Distribution, the three experts emphasized that, although no company was prepared to face a situation like the one that has been experienced worldwide, pharmacies have carried out a great deal of work. A) Yes, since the health crisis began, they have been able to guarantee the supply of medicines to people, offering solutions in the pandemic.
The Forum has also focused on a challenge that distributors must face, and that is the management of stocks. Generating optimal stocks will allow maintaining a balance between maintaining stable reserves, without the need to increase them, and controlling the expiration of medicines, which could help to avoid shortage problems, such as the distribution of vaccines, especially from the Covid-19 vaccine.
The distribution sector has also started an important digitization process, and has faced challenges derived from this digital transformation, such as cybersecurity.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.