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Foreign supply of children’s pain meds set to hit Canadian shelves next week

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By Jordan Omstead

A large foreign supply of children’s fever and pain medication is expected to start showing up on pharmacy and retail shelves next week, Health Canada said Friday.

One million bottles of the children’s medication will have been distributed to hospitals, pharmacies and retailers after next week, health officials said during a media briefing.

“The initial supplies, including that one million bottles, is of acetaminophen for children and those are the products that are destined for the pharmacies and the retailers,” said Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma.

Hospital, pharmacies and parents with sick kids have been grappling with a nationwide shortage of children’s Tylenol and Advil since spring, exacerbated by the early arrival of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus along with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Sharma did not provide a specific breakdown of where those bottles are coming from and where they will be distributed. But she said hospital supply “seems to be quite stable now.”

Hospitals have reported surges in the number of kids admitted to emergency and intensive care units. Canada’s largest pediatric health centre, the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, said last week it was reducing surgeries to preserve its critical care capacity after reporting its ICU had been well above capacity for several days.

Health Canada said production of children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen is double what it was last year, but demand is still outstripping supply.

Sharma said Health Canada approved three proposals to import foreign product and the supply has already started to arrive in the country. That move was “always on the table,” but it’s been taken up with urgency since the late summer and early fall, she said.

Health Canada regularly uses its power to temporarily authorize imports of drugs labelled for a foreign market to help prevent or ease shortages.

“The product that’s coming in, just to say, for these first shipments, is actually very similar, almost exactly the same as the product that’s already authorized in Canada in terms of in formulation,” Sharma said.

Health Canada said it would update the list of authorized imports with the recent approvals early next week, and launched a web page dedicated to the children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen shortages.

The arrival of new shipments came as a relief to some parents with young children who for months have been anxiously met by empty pharmacy shelves and have had to jump through hoops to purchase the hard-to-find medication.

“My gut reaction is, it’s about time. And is that even enough? Because everybody’s kids are home all the time ” said Kelly O’Dwyer-Manuel, a mother to two young boys, aged 2 and 6, in Peterborough, Ont.

“I’m glad that there’s something but, man, that took them a long time to get there.”

Since early September, either one or both of O’Dwyer-Manuel’s young sons have been at home sick at least once a week, she said. She bought boxes of ibuprofen at a markup online and had them shipped from the U.S.

Despite the foreign supply set to soon arrive in Canada, O’Dwyer-Manuel said she expects to eventually rely on the goodwill of colleagues south of the border, who have offered to send her medication.

“It would be nice to see some concrete plans from leaders at all levels of government,” she said. “The burden on parents is pretty extraordinary.”

Sharma, the chief medical adviser, said it’s challenging to predict the demand for acetaminophen and ibuprofen given their use for a range of conditions. Demand, she said, has been “very atypical” in recent months and “very challenging to predict.”

“We’ll see what happens in terms of the supply that goes out there, how quickly it’s been taken up, what the supply situation is, then we continually reassess that.”

Health Canada officials said the agency was also looking at foreign supply to help ease a shortage of some formulations of amoxicillin, an antibiotic frequently used to treat children with ear infections, bronchitis and pneumonia.

Officials were grilled about the drug shortages earlier this week by a House of Commons health committee, with MPs demanding answers about when it began, what was behind it and who was to blame.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2022

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What the latest Bank of Canada rate hike means for inflation, consumers

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By Tara Deschamps

The Bank of Canada hiked its key policy rate by half a percentage point to 4.25 per cent — the highest it’s been since January 2008 — on Wednesday in its final rate decision of a year that has been marked by stubbornly high inflation and rapidly increasing interest rates.

The bank, which has made a steady succession of large hikes over the course of the year, is widely believed to be nearing an end to the increases.

In announcing the rate hike Wednesday, the bank said it will consider whether the rate “needs to rise further to bring supply and demand back into balance and return inflation to target.”

Here’s a look at what the rate means, how analysts are interpreting it and what it could mean for consumers.

What is the key policy rate and what does it do?

The key policy rate, also known as the target for the overnight rate, is how much interest the Bank of Canada wants commercial banks to charge when lending each other money overnight to settle daily balances.

Knowing how much it costs to lend money, or deposit it with the central bank, helps set the interest rates charged on things like loans and mortgages.

Lowering the rate generally makes borrowing money more affordable, while raising it makes such activities more expensive.

Why is the bank using the rate to target inflation?

Inflation is a measure of how much prices of goods and services are rising or falling. High inflation is a sign of an economy that’s overheating.

Canada’s annual inflation rate reached a peak of 8.1 per cent in June, the highest level in four decades.

It has eased since then, reaching 6.9 per cent in September, but didn’t budge in October. And shoppers have seen higher prices for common expenses like groceries. Grocery prices have been rising at the fastest pace in decades and were 11 per cent higher in October than they were a year ago.

Economists and the central bank want to see a further easing, which is why interest rates have been rising so quickly in the hope of cooling consumer spending patterns.

“Inflation is still too high and short-term inflation expectations remain elevated,” the bank said in its announcement. “The longer that consumers and businesses expect inflation to be above the target, the greater the risk that elevated inflation becomes entrenched.”

What does this mean for my mortgage?

Mortgage rates tend to increase or decrease in tandem with interest rates.

When Canadians buy homes there are two kinds of mortgages they can select — fixed rate or variable. Fixed-rate mortgages allow borrowers to lock in the interest rate they will pay for a set amount of time, while variable-rate mortgages can fluctuate.

Allison Van Rooijen, vice-president of consumer credit at Meridian Credit Unit, estimates the rate hike Wednesday will bump payments on a $450,000 variable-rate mortgage on a 25-year amortization up another $130 or so every month. Since the beginning of 2022, rising rates have amounted to roughly $1,000 more per month since the beginning of 2022.

“Because of the high cost of housing in Canada and years of low borrowing rates, Canadians are carrying record-levels of debt on mortgages and lines of credit, so it’s really important that people go through their expenses and look to scale back discretionary spending where they can,” she said in an email.

She recommends people double down on efforts to pay off debt with higher interest rates as much as possible and if they are running into trouble making payments, discuss whether switching to another format of mortgage is right for them.

Does this mean interest rates will stop rising soon?

Shortly after the announcement, many economists predicted the bank isn’t done with hikes yet, even though the language in the statement signalled the possibility of holding steady at 4.25 per cent.

BMO Capital Markets chief economist Douglas Porter said a further hike of about 25 basis points is likely still to come because he’s concerned about the “stickiness of underlying inflation.”

James Orlando of TD Economics agreed. He expects the bank will deliver its final rate hike for the foreseeable future in January, bringing the measure to 4.5 per cent.

“We don’t think the Bank of Canada is done yet, but it is quickly approaching the end of its hiking cycle,” he wrote in a note to investors.

“As all Canadians know, the rapid rate hikes over 2022 have caused a dramatic adjustment in the real estate market, and we are starting to see this in consumer spending data. We expect this to continue to weigh on the economy over 2023 as the lagged effects of past hikes filter through.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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Experts raise concerns as Nigeria limits cash withdrawals

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By Chinedu Asadu in Abuja

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Experts on Wednesday raised concerns over a new policy announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria that heavily limits withdrawals of money in a push for a cashless economy.

The monetary policy, which applies to ATMs, banks and cash back from purchases, follows the launch of the West African nation’s newly designed currency notes to control the money supply.

The central bank limited weekly over-the-counter cash withdrawals to 100,000 naira ($225) for individuals and 500,000 naira ($1,124) for corporations, with a processing fee required to access more.

When the policy takes effect in Jan. 9, ATMs will no longer dispense Nigeria’s high denominations of 1,000 naira ($2.25) and 500 naira ($1.10) while withdrawals from ATMs and point-of-sale terminals also will be limited to 20,000 naira ($45) daily.

“In compelling circumstances, not exceeding once a month, where cash withdrawals above the prescribed limits are required for legitimate purposes, such cash withdrawals shall not exceed 5,000,000 naira ($11,236) and 10,000,000 naira ($22,471) for individuals and corporations, respectively,” said Haruna Mustafa, the bank’s director of banking supervision.

Policymakers say the withdrawal limits and recent monetary initiatives from the central bank would bring more people into the banking system and curb currency hoarding, illicit flows and inflation.

But analysts worry that with digital payments often unreliable in Nigeria, the initiative could hurt daily transactions that people and businesses make.

“The policy is intended to cause discomfort, to move you from cash to cashless because they (the central bank) have said they want to make it uncomfortable and expensive for you to hold cash,” economic analyst Kalu Aja said.

“That is a positive for the CBN (because) the more discomforting they are able to achieve, the more people can move,” Aja said.

In Nigeria, the majority of people work in the informal sector — mainly activities outside of the legal framework and government regulation such as farming, street and market trade, and public transport. The economy is heavily dependent on this sector, and cash is usually preferred for transactions because many lack bank accounts.

Only 45% of adults in Nigeria have accounts with regulated financial institutions, according to the World Bank. In the absence of bank accounts, point-of-sale terminals have emerged as one of the fastest-growing areas of financial inclusion in the country.

Through the withdrawal limits, the central bank is “directly attacking” such agency banking services and “people will essentially begin to hoard their money,” said Tunde Ajileye, a partner at Lagos–based SBM Intelligence firm.

“It is not going to drive people to start to try doing electronic transactions. On the contrary, it is going to move people away from the financial institutions,” he said.

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