AESGP Annual Report 2020

Self-care in times of pandemic and beyond

By Birgit Schuhbauer, AESGP President

2020 is the year we will remember for the numerous disruptions that a global pandemic brought to our lives. COVID-19 created unprecedented challenges for our health systems, our economies and our social and mental well-being. Self-care has never been as important as in these circumstances. Even at the most critical of times, European community pharmacies have remained open and offered qualified advice as well as a number of self-care product options for the management of mild symptoms of COVID-19 and other common ailments, enabling us to practice self-care and spare health system resources for those in most need.

At the beginning of the pandemic in Europe, we saw unprecedented wave of panic buying, including of self-care products. At the same time, we saw Member States closing borders, usual transport routes disrupted due to fewer passenger flights, and we had to deal with other unanticipated challenges including export restrictions by EU trading partners. Still, our Industry, with the assistance of the regulators and legislators, was capable by and large to avoid shortages and ensure continuity of supply during this challenging period. At the same time, we have learnt lessons. We have stress-tested our supply chains. We have revised and updated contingency and risk management plans, etc. We are coming out of this stronger.

At the end of 2020, the Commission set out a vision for the future of the European pharmaceutical sector – The European Pharmaceutical Strategy. Europe hosts several global manufacturing facilities of non-prescription medicines. Medicines manufactured in Europe are supplied not only to the people in Europe, but to other continents as well, from the Americas to Australia. Hence it is important that when strengthening European production and procurement we ensure access to high-quality and affordable medicinal products globally.

We welcome in particular the Commission’s commitment to regulatory and administrative simplification. It is crucial to pursue an agenda of better regulation for the pharmaceutical sector, to reduce red tape and improve the effectiveness of regulatory procedures. Some of the flexibility that was introduced during the pandemic hopefully is here to stay, so that the European regulatory system remains agile and future proof.

We believe that digitalisation of the pharmaceutical regulatory system should be recognised among the top strategic priorities by the regulatory network. We are committed to supporting the implementation of the EU Telematics Strategy so that common information-technology services are put in place and maintained to implement the European pharmaceutical policy and legislation.

I would like to conclude my review of 2020 by saying that we certainly live in unprecedented times. The pandemic has exposed many of our vulnerabilities, and the impact will be profound and long-lasting. But at the same time, it is amazing to see how fast we have adapted to this new reality, embraced digital technologies, adapted and found new ways of working and connecting to each other. It is important that while we are learning our lessons and future proofing our systems, we do not miss this opportunity to lay the ground for a sustainable “new normal”.

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