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HEALTH

German pharmacies see supply shortage of around 250 medications

German pharmacies are sounding the alarm due to a shortage of items including high blood pressure medications, fever syrups and ibuprofen.

View of a shelf with medicines against coughs and colds in a pharmacy.
View of a shelf with medicines against coughs and colds in a pharmacy. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Friso Gentsch

The head of the German Pharmacist’s Association is warning of a “timebomb” on supply shortages in the country’s pharmacies.

Hans-Peter Hubmann, chairman of the Deutscher Apothekerverband (DAV), says pharmacies around the country are increasingly seeing delivery delays or simply running out of medications.

“Right now there’s about 250 medications listed as being simply undeliverable,” he said as the DAV prepared to mark World Patient Safety Day on Saturday.

Some medication shortages have been going on for months, or even years in some cases, said Hubmann, but the problem has recently gotten worse. DAV reports there was an absolute shortage of the tamoxifen breast cancer drug in both April and May, leaving the patients affected with little recourse at that time.

Shortages are also not simply in niche drugs, but in stocks of medications that are widely used, such as children’s fever syrup, blood pressure medications, and painkillers.

READ ALSO: Why are medicines in Germany only available in pharmacies?

“There’s always a few bottlenecks here and there because of a supplier failure, but less than half the products currently affected had shortages five years ago,” he said.

The DAV says China’s current ‘zero-Covid’ approach has made the problem worse because many producers no longer find it economical to produce certain medicines in Europe. Fever syrup, to use one example, is under a price cap – limiting the incentive to produce it in Europe. With active ingredients produced in China or other East Asian countries, the lockdowns at Chinese ports prevent certain medicines from being shipped to Europe in a timely manner.

“That’s why we’ve been demanding that active ingredient production takes place in Europe again,” Hubmann said, asking for politicians to create incentives for companies to do so.

However, he says that even if they did, it would take five to 10 years for the supply problems to alleviate. “That doesn’t happen overnight,” he says.

Vocabulary:

Pharmacist – (der) Apotheke/(die) Apothekerin

An Association (often, but not always, used in the context of trade associations) – (der) Verband

Medication – (das) Medikament

Delivery bottlenecks – (die) Lieferengpässe

Painkillers – (die) Schmerzmittel

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

Member comments

  1. Gas supply- Russia, food supplies-Ukraine, and now medical supplies from China. When does Germany learn its lesson? Critical things needed should not be left to other countries to fill that need. Cheap clothes, okay, Games, okay. Food, heating, security, health supplies, no.

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HEALTH

‘Breaking point’: Why German pediatric wards are filling to capacity

Overcrowded patient rooms, days-long stays in the ER, transfer of sick babies to hospitals more than 100 kilometers away: the current wave of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections in Germany is pushing children's hospitals to their limits. 

'Breaking point': Why German pediatric wards are filling to capacity

The German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (Divi) said on Thursday that there was a “catastrophic situation” in children’s intensive care units. 

According to the physicians, a wave of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infections can be expected every year starting in the autumn. 

Yet this year “there are fewer and fewer pediatric hospital beds available overall” as well as a lack of nursing staff, Divi Secretary General Florian Hoffmann explained Wednesday on ZDF’s Morgenmagazin.

Because all beds were full in one case, a child was transferred from the Hannover Medical School (MHH) to Magdeburg on Friday night, a distance of around 150 kilometers. 

“My colleagues had called 21 clinics,” said Gesine Hansen, Medical Director of the MHH Clinic for Pediatric Pneumology, Allergology and Neonatology, told DPA. 

The child, who was about one-year old, had an RSV infection, which can be life-threatening, especially for babies and children with pre-existing conditions.

READ ALSO: 7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

‘Catching up’

Some health experts have said that hospitals are now filled to capacity because children had minimal social contact during the pandemic and are now catching up on infections.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), an estimated 5.6 severe cases of RSV respiratory illness occur worldwide per 1,000 children in the twelve months after birth. 

Within the first year of life, 50 to 70 percent would typically have experienced at least one infection with RSV, and by the end of the second year of life, nearly all children should have experienced at least one infection. 

In the wake of protective measures against Covid-19, however, many such infections had temporarily failed to materialise. 

‘Breaking point’

According to Divi, hardly any clinics had a free crib or free pediatric intensive care bed in the past few days.

“Children have to lie in the emergency room for days,” Hoffmann said.

Yet the peak of the current wave of respiratory infections in children has by no means been reached, Hoffmann said. “The situation in practices and clinics will get even worse in the coming weeks.”

“We are at the breaking point,” said Matthias Keller, head of the Children’s Hospital Dritter Orden Passau already. The rooms are often double-occupied, he said. In some cases, there were too few monitors and not enough equipment for respiratory support.

READ ALSO: Flu season makes a comeback in Germany

A child with RSV being treated at the Olgahospital in Stuttgart. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

“Some patient rooms are like bed storage areas, where you really have to crawl over the beds to get to the sick child, because the parent bed is lined up with the patient bed,” said Keller, who is also chairman of the South German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

This has far-reaching consequences for other young children who need treatment. When an infant who has just been resuscitated is admitted to a children’s hospital that is actually fully occupied, a three-year-old has to wait there for the third day in a row for his urgently needed heart operation.

‘Responsibility of politicians’

A wave of infections usually lasts six to eight weeks. In Bavaria, Lower Saxony and Berlin, as well as North Rhine-Westphalia, clinics are reporting a “maximally tense situation,” reported Divi on Thursday.

The Düsseldorf University Hospital, for example, is experiencing a wave of influenza among its young patients in addition to the RSV wave, which is “causing massive problems primarily for children up to elementary school age,” said University Hospital spokesman Tobias Pott.

In the Rhineland, “all beds are completely full” at times, said Jörg Dötsch, president of the German Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. An ER waiting time of six to seven hours is not uncommon, he says. 

“It is very unpleasant when children and their families have to virtually camp out in the emergency room,” says Dötsch, who is also director of the Clinic for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at the University Hospital in Cologne. 

READ ALSO: Healthcare in Germany: How to get a faster appointment with a specialist doctor

What are the solutions?

At their meeting on Thursday in Hamburg, intensive care physicians and intensive care nurses will discuss approaches to solving the crisis. 

One solution may be to temporarily bring nursing staff from adult facilities into the children’s hospitals, says Hoffmann, who is also a senior physician at Dr. von Hauner’s Children’s Hospital at the University of Munich. 

But above all, he says, many more pediatric nursing staff need to be trained. “We need to strengthen nursing,” he explained. “Only then do we have a chance.”

Others said more money needed to be invested in pediatric medicine and vaccines, even if it is less profitable.

“The fact that children’s lives are currently in danger is the responsibility of politicians,” said Jakob Maske, spokesman for the Professional Association of Pediatricians and Adolescents.

“Nowadays medicine has to be profitable – not cure diseases, but make money.”

READ ALSO: How private investors are buying up healthcare practices in Germany

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