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Securing critical raw materials supply is key to the response to ‎COVID-19‎

Published: 17 April 2020

With almost half of the world under lockdown, the continued supply of certain critical raw materials needed for an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic has become a concern.  

The Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and excipients of several drugs, including antibiotics such as Azithromycin or Amoxicillin, incorporate minerals such as chromium, cobalt, copper, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, sodium, nickel and many others.

This is also the case of the four antivirals which are being experimented in many countries as a preventive drug and treatment for COVID-19 under the WHO-led Solidarity Trial.

One example of a raw material widely used in the pharmaceutical industry is phosphate. It is also used in food additives and fertilizers. Phosphate is produced from phosphatic rocks and its primary production facilities are concentrated in a few countries. China and a couple of countries in North Africa and the Middle-East accounted for over 70% of production of phosphate rocks in 2019, and about 80 % of proven reserves.

In situations like the current pandemic with an immediate supply crunch, identifying alternative local or regional sources is key.

The United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) and its expanded version under development, the United Nations Resource Management System (UNRMS), can be used to source critical raw materials from conventional and unconventional sources, either in multi-metal and multi-mineral deposits.

UNFC’s anthropogenic resource specifications can also be used to understand the social and environmental benefits of phosphate resources recovered from sewage sludge, compost and waste water.

UNFC and UNRMS are thus suited to increase options for quickly spreading production options between local, national, regional or global sources.

Preparing for a green recovery

The immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recovery from the severe economic downturn it will trigger will require a massive fiscal response. Many such measures have been announced by numerous countries and multilateral financial institutions.

“If we are to stay on course to meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is crucial that the related massive investments are directed towards a “green”, and not a brown recovery”, stressed UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova.

However, the materials required for a green energy transition, such as copper, cobalt, lithium or rare earth elements (REEs), are currently not sufficiently accessible.

“The metals and minerals required for technologies such as solar photovoltaics, batteries, electric vehicle motors, wind turbines, and fuel cells already face key sustainability challenges,” highlighted Michael Haschke, R&D Manager at DMT Group in Germany, member of UNECE’s Expert Group on Resource Management . “Pressure put on supply chains by the pandemic has increased the challenges.”

“Application of UNFC and UNRMS can provide reliable and coherent data on the availability and sourcing of these critical raw materials from all sources (conventional, unconventional, recycling, waste, etc.), with a view to support the roll out of green technologies,” added UNECE Executive Secretary Olga Algayerova “This can also contribute to foster the development of circular economy strategies and improve the long-term resilience of supply-chains.”

For more information on UNFC and UNRMS visit: https://www.unece.org/energy/se/reserves.html

Note to editors

Examples or raw materials contained in the APIs and excipients of selected drugs:

  • Azithromycin contains phosphate, sodium, magnesium, sulphur, titanium dioxide and aluminum
  • Amoxicillin (WHO-listed essential antibiotic) contains magnesium, titanium, iron
  • Lopinavir (HIV and HPV anti-viral) contains mineral based silica, talc, titanium, and iron 
  • Remdesivir (Ebola anti-viral) contains phosphate, calcium, silica, magnesium, titanium, etc.
  • Interferon beta-1a contains sodium, phosphate
  • Chloroquine (phosphate) and hydroxychloroquine (sulphate) contain phosphate, calcium, silica, calcium, talc, sulphur, magnesium, titanium.

Phosphate rock production and reserves

 

[Source: 2020 US geological survey on phosphate rock]

https://www.usgs.gov/centers/nmic/phosphate-rock-statistics-and-information


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