Medical Supplies Shortage Continues as Result of Hurricane Maria
For the last few months, the after effects of Hurricane Maria, the worst natural disaster in Puerto Rico’s history, have been keenly felt by the medical community for a surprising reason. The devastation of the small Caribbean island has brought about the mass realization that Puerto Rico is the location of many US drug manufacturing facilities.
The products of healthcare companies like Baxter International make up 72% of the island’s exports and 25% of all US pharmaceutical exports, and the loss of Puerto Rico’s power has caused an alarming shortage of medical supplies here in the states.
The most devastating deficit is the widely used IV bags of sterile saline solution that hospitals need for a variety of treatments, ranging from hydrating patients to slow intravenous administration of medication. According to Asa Kitfield, a managing partner at Nutridrip, medical resellers are charging buyers a 600% markup for mini-IV bags, a price most hospitals simply can’t afford.
Due to this IV bag shortage, hospitals have resorted to using the IV push method to administer medication, a procedure which requires nurses to slowly inject the medication directly into the patient’s IV line over the course of several minutes. Some facilities are also training nurses in the Buretrol method which hasn’t been widely used in over a decade but is a safer option and would require much less manpower.
As of last week, electrical power has been restored to 58.1% of Puerto Rico, and Baxter announced that their access to the electric grid has been completely reestablished. The FDA “expect that the shortage of IV saline fluids will improve in early 2018, with continuing improvements in the weeks ahead" but also cautions that “the production situation in Puerto Rico remains fragile.”
This recent supply shortage catastrophe has highlighted a flaw in the healthcare system that is too often under-addressed. Various manufacturing issues such as single-source production and a lack of transparency on the part of pharmaceutical companies are partially responsible for a year-round shortage of many drugs.
Last month, the American Hospital Association wrote a letter to US lawmakers asking them to address this problem. The letter stated that a “lack of transparency puts healthcare systems at a significant disadvantage when trying to take a proactive approach to handling a potential drug shortage...The current system results in a reactive approach, which is usually short-notice and has a rapid downstream effect, leaving hospitals at a loss to meet patient needs.”
The AHA hopes that by requiring pharmaceutical companies to disclose information about the location and function of their drug factories, they can better anticipate and handle similar future medical crises.