This blog post is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series.
Recently, the world has discovered a shrinking supply, and increasing shortage of medical equipment such as facial protective masks, and also medicine such as paracetamol. Of the Nordic countries, one country stands out in terms of its handling of this issue; Finland.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, Finland, unlike its Nordic neighbors, already mandated that medicine producers and importers of medicine keep a stockpile of three to ten months of medicine and food in emergency supply. On March 24, 2020, the Finnish Minister for Health opened the Finnish emergency stockpile for medicine. Below I answer some questions on how this emergency stockpile is regulated
1. What is the Finnish Emergency Supply Fund?
The Finnish Emergency Supply Fund consists of several different stockpiles. Finland stores fuel, medicine and medical supplies, as well as food, in accordance with the Act on Ensuring Emergency Supply (Lag om tryggande av försörjningsberedskapen (FFS 10092/1390).)
The stockpiling of medicine is specifically regulated in the Act on Stockpiling of Medicine (Lag om obligatorisk lagring av läkemedel (FFS 2008/979)). According to section 1, the purpose of the Act is to “through mandatory stockpiling ensure access to medicine and the ability to use medicine in situations when the normal access to medicine is limited or prevented.”
2. Who must provide for its contents?
All producers and importers of medicine must supply medicine to the emergency stockpile (3 § Act on Stockpiling Medicine).
3. What products must be supplied and for how long?
Section 4 of the Act on Stockpiling Medicine lists all medicines that are covered by the mandate. The amount supplied depends on the type of medicine. For example, the equivalent of a ten-month supply of antibiotics, a six-month supply of anesthetics, and a three-month supply of asthma medicine must be stored (§§ 4-6).
The stockpile is maintained by the Finnish National Emergency Supply Agency (Försörjningsberedskapscentralen). (Statsrådets förordning om försörjningsberedskapscentralen (FFS 2008/455).)
4. When can supplies be used?
The stockpile can be used when emergency legislation is in use, for instance during war or a pandemic (15 and 16 §§ Act on Stockpiling Medicine). The government determines when to use it. (3 § Act of Ensuring Emergency Supply.) The COVID-19 pandemic is the first time medical equipment and medicine from the stockpile has been used.
5. What other rules are currently in effect?
Section 87 of the Emergency Act (Beredskapslag 2011/1552) gives the Finnish Ministry of Health the power to re-organize and limit medical supplies. Finland has currently set limits on how much medicine may be purchased by individual households, requiring that Finnish customers now choose between paracetamol or ibuprofen. Finland has also adopted a general export prohibition on all medicine, to ensure national supply. In accordance with a new regulation enabling the powers of the emergency preparedness act (the Statsrådets förordning om omedelbar ibruktagning av befogenheter i enlighet med 87 § i beredskapslagen (FFS 124/2020), sales of medicine may be limited domestically within Finland between March 17, 2020, and April 13, 2020.