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Medicine shortages could worsen as Christmas looms over busy ports

Medicine shortages are expected to worsen as ports face congestion issues in the run-up to Christmas.

Most of New Zealand’s medicines and medical devices are imported and a number of medications are out of stock, including oral contraceptives and antidepressants, as air freight movement collapses and global supply chains are disrupted.

A lot of freight arrives via passenger plane, which has been dramatically reduced because of the pandemic– adding pressure to ports.

But Pharmac, the Government’s medicine buying agency, is working to ensure medicines make their way into the country.

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There is congestion at the Ports of Auckland because of the pandemic, with issues getting freight onto railways and on the road. (File photo)

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There is congestion at the Ports of Auckland because of the pandemic, with issues getting freight onto railways and on the road. (File photo)

Chief executive Sarah Fitt said in most cases alternative routes such as air freight could be used to ensure continuous supply.

“These are problems globally.”

She warned busy ports around Christmas time may worsen the situation, but people should not stockpile medicines.

“We know that Covid-19 is likely to continue to have global impacts on medicine manufacturing and supply chains for the remainder of 2020 and beyond,” she said.

“Stockpiling medicines makes it more difficult for pharmacists, doctors and Pharmac to avoid shortages for everyone.”

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt warns medicine shortages will last well beyond 2020.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt warns medicine shortages will last well beyond 2020.

Pharmaceutical Society vice president Rhiannon Braund said workloads had doubled as many three-monthly prescriptions were now offered on a monthly basis.

“It has been quite relentless,” she said.

Harriet Shelton, a supply chain manager at the Ministry of Transport, said the Ports of Auckland had been particularly hard-hit by the surge in demand.

“This is amplified by disruption to international shipping schedules and congestion at Asian and Australian ports,” she said.

The port handles the bulk of the country’s imports but faced extra challenges including delays to its automation system.

And moving freight to rail and the road system once it arrived was also an issue due to limited capacity, she said.

But special flights for critical goods, were possible through the International Air Freight Capacity scheme.”

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