Rapid assessment of price instability and paucity of medicines and protection for COVID-19 across Asia : findings and public health implications for the future

Godman, Brian and Haque, Mainul and Islam, Salequl and Iqbal, Samiul and Urmi, Umme Laila and Kamal, Zubair Mahmood and Shuvo, Shahriar Ahmed and Rahman, Aminur and Kamal, Mustafa and Haque, Monami and Jahan, Iffat and Islam, Md. Zakirul and Hossain, Mohammad Monir and Munzur-E-Murshid, and Kumar, Santosh and Charan, Jaykaran and Bhatt, Rohan and Dutta, Siddhartha and Abhayanand, Jha Pallavi and Sharma, Yesh and Saleem, Zikria and Phuong, Thuy Nguyen Thi and Kwon, Hye-Young and Kurdi, Amanj and Wale, Janney and Sefah, Israel (2020) Rapid assessment of price instability and paucity of medicines and protection for COVID-19 across Asia : findings and public health implications for the future. Frontiers in Public Health, 8. 585832. ISSN 2296-2565

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    Abstract

    Background: Countries have introduced a variety of measures to prevent and treat COVID-19 with medicines and personal protective equipment (PPE), with some countries adopting preventative strategies earlier than others. However, there has been considerable controversy surrounding some treatments. This includes hydroxychloroquine where the initial hype and misinformation lead to shortages, price rises and suicides. Price rises and shortages have also been seen for PPE. Such activities can have catastrophic effects on patients where there are high co-payment levels and issues of affordability. Consequently, there is a need to investigate this further. Objective: Assess changes in the availability, utilization and prices of relevant medicines and PPE during the pandemic among a range of Asian countries. Our approach: Narrative literature review combined with interviews among community pharmacists to assess changes in consumption, prices and shortages of medicines and PPE from the beginning of March 2020 until end of May 2020. In addition, suggestions on ways to reduce misinformation. Results: 308 pharmacists took part from five Asian countries. There was an appreciable increase in the utilization of antimicrobials in Pakistan (in over 88% of pharmacies), with lower increases or no change in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia and Vietnam. Encouragingly, there was increased use of vitamins/immune boosters and PPE across the countries, as well as limited price rises for antimicrobials in India, Malaysia and Vietnam, although greater price rises seen for analgesics and vitamin C/immune boosters. Appreciable price increases were also seen for PPE across some countries. Conclusion: Encouraging to see increases in utilization of vitamins/immune boosters and PPE. However, increases in the utilization and prices of antimicrobials is a concern that needs addressing alongside misinformation and any unintended consequences from the pandemic. Community pharmacists can play a key role in providing evidence-based advice, helping to moderate prices, as well as helping address some of the unintended consequences of the pandemic.