The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lack of supply for all kinds of medicines, from anaesthetics to cancer drugs. Hertie School Professor of Health Governance Mujaheed Shaikh and Professor Katharina Blankart from the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) will join forces to analyse the causes and consequences of these drug shortages in a new research project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

The two researchers are among the first to address the issue of drug shortages in contexts outside of the US; their study will look at the supply of medicines in Europe, with a focus on Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The DFG will support the study through a grant valued at over 355,000 euros. The project will commence in August and will take place over the course of two years.

Shaikh and Blankart’s goal is to enable policy-makers to intervene at earlier stages of drug shortages, by developing a model that looks at potential causes. Their work will be conducted in two stages and aims to incorporate various findings and theories from different fields, including economics, management and medicine.

Katharina Blankart will first collect data on drug shortages during the pandemic and identify causes at the national level. “I will analyse how these gaps affected the health of patients, as well as the quality of treatment and costs,” she says.

Mujaheed Shaikh will then compare the global supply chain for medicines against an existing model for Germany, Austria and Switzerland. “By highlighting various shortages during the COVID-19 crisis, we can identify where we should intervene, should we face more pandemics in the future,” he says.

While drug shortages were already a policy problem affecting health care systems before the coronavirus pandemic, they reached a critical point between March and June 2020 in many jurisdictions. In Germany, for example, 116 components were reported as being in short supply, including medicines to treat severe symptoms of COVID-19 patients, such as Propofol used to sedate patients in critical care needs and those requiring ventilation.

Read the full press release (in German) here.

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