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Medical Scarcity: QUICK TOPIC REPORT

20 July 2012

Over the past five years, the pharmaceutical supply chain has grown increasingly unreliable. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the figure of drug shortages has tripled between 2006 and 2010 (see Figure 1 and Figure 21).

In 2010 alone 211 cases were recorded, while in 2011 up to 89 cases were recorded as early as March.2 These shortages range from cancer medication to antibiotics, anesthetics, painkillers, anti-depressants and emergency care drugs. Shortages have grave implications for the provision of healthcare, with hospitals not able to provide the right care causing patients to become ill or even perish.

Drug scarcity has also been experienced in Europe where reports have surfaced of shortages in cytarabine, a leukemia drug, Thyrogen, used to treat thyroid cancer, and in Cerezyme and Fabrazyme, essential for the treatment of enzyme deficiency disorders.3 The rise of drug shortages has raised concerns among health care providers and requires effective monitoring by national authorities with possible intervention. Increasing scarcity of medication is a worrying trend, which is likely to continue for the coming decades.

The Quick Topic Report on Medical Scarcity is part of a series produced by the Strategy & Change program. The briefs in the series identify emerging strategic issues that are relevant for the four themes of Strategy & Change: security, technology & innovation, economy & society, and sustainable development. For each of these issues, the Strategy and Change program explores policy implications across the four themes.

Experts on this report

Director of the Strategic Futures Program

Erik Frinking

Erik Frinking is the Director of the Strategic Futures Program at HCSS. He holds a Master’s degree in Political Science from Leiden University.

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Team leader for Economy and Society

Govert Gijsbers

Govert Gijsbers studied at the Free University in Amsterdam and obtained his PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2009.