Policy coherence issues emerging from COVID-19 with a focus on healthcare supply chains

Disruptions in healthcare supply chains have exposed vulnerabilities in domestic and cross-border production and distribution networks for essential medical goods. Fabien Tondel and Pamella Eunice Ahairwe look at the factors that have contributed to this and at the role policy coherence has played and could play in remedying the weak spots.

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    The management of the coronavirus pandemic has been considerably impaired by a dearth of essential medical and pharmaceutical products. Disruptions in supply chains for healthcare goods have caused shortages and tight inventories. The reliance of many countries, particularly in Europe and Africa, on products imported from a few international suppliers is largely the result of the process of globalisation in the past decades. In conjunction with the lack of preparedness of health and civil protection systems, interdependencies in healthcare sectors, notably between Europe and Asia, made them vulnerable to a crisis affecting both exporters and importers.

    Yet, the COVID-19 crisis is not putting into question globalisation as an economic and social fact. Rather, it is exposing crucial challenges to better manage problems caused by interdependencies, especially in international supply chains for critical goods, across policy areas. The crisis has also been marked by a lack of international coordination, especially when countries started to restrict trade in essential medical goods and medicines for fighting the pandemic.

    European policymakers should be well aware of the rapidly changing landscape of global value chains. Addressing those challenges will require clear thinking about the potential trade-offs involved as well as concerted efforts to find synergies and balanced solutions. European policy responses directed to healthcare value chains, aiming at domestic health security and competitiveness in the international market, should be coherent with development policy interests, especially for African countries. They could help alleviate vulnerabilities, deploy a treatment or a vaccine as a public good, and seize opportunities for redeploying value chains in ways that can promote a fairer and safer globalisation.

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