India, the world’s leading supplier of generic drugs, is cutting down exports of vital medicines and ingredients due to supply shortages amid the growing Chinese coronavirus threat.
The Indian government is now restricting the export of 26 pharmaceutical ingredients and the medicines made from them. This includes Paracetamol, a common pain reliever and fever reducer also sold as acetaminophen or under its name brand, Tylenol. Other restrictions include antibiotics like tinidazole and erythromycin, the hormone progesterone, and vitamin B12.
“Export of specified APIs and formulations made from these APIs … is hereby ‘restricted’ with immediate effect and till further orders,” Director General of Foreign Trade Udyog Bhavan said in a statement released on Tuesday. He did not elaborate on the extent or extremity of those restrictions.
While India has said it has enough supplies to continue operation for the next two to three months, the coronavirus pandemic threatens to make shortages more severe. India imports approximately 70 percent of the APIs used to manufacture their drugs from China.
Because of that, and “irrespective of the ban,” Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India chairman Dinesh Dua told Reuters that “some of these molecules may face shortages for the next couple of months.” Furthermore, “if coronavirus is not contained, then in that case there could be acute shortages.”
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), drugs imported from India accounted for approximately 24 percent of medicines and 31 percent of medicine ingredients in 2018. On Tuesday, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn told senators that they are still working to evaluate the potential effect on drug availability.
Weeks ago, Rosemary Gibson, author of China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine, warned Breitbart of China’s “global chokehold” on international medicine supplies. She advised that the U.S. government pursue a long-term plan to expand domestic manufacturing of medical products within the U.S. to prevent exactly this sort of shortage:
I would have our federal government invest in helping to rebuild our industrial base using advanced manufacturing technology that can produce our medicines much more cheaply, safely, with less environmental footprint, and fully, from soup to nuts from those core raw materials to finished drug in one location all here in the United States.
The New York Times reports that India is taking similar steps: “Over the longer term, the Indian government is considering pushing forward with a long-stalled plan to make more drug ingredients domestically and reduce the country’s reliance on Chinese suppliers,” they wrote.
And experts within the drug industry agree: “If there is a potential shortage building up of critical medicines, then there has to be affirmative action taken to ensure that supplies are available to Indian citizens,” Ranjit Shahani, former head of Novartis AG’s Indian unit, told Bloomberg. “If there’s total lockdown in some of the states or area where these things are made then it’s going to impact the world.”