COVID-19 underlines medicine interdependency, which is not good: Experts

Countries must come out of global value chain and become self-dependent, they said

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Tuesday 07 April 2020

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic had underlined the interdependence of countries on others for medicine, which was not a good sign, experts have said on April 7, 2020.

Their comments came in the wake of India’s quick climb-down after United States (US) President Donald Trump threatened ‘retaliation’ over the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine.

The drug, which is used to treat malaria, has been in the limelight because it yielded promising but not-very-conclusive results in small samples. President Trump has been very taken in by the drug. The US has stockpiled 29 million doses of the medicine, according to reports.

The Indian government had banned the export of the drug a few days ago. Before the ban, India had also announced a stop on the export of 26 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and medicines that it manufactured, on March 3.

However, following Trump’s statement, the government lifted the ban.

“In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would license paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities,” Anurag Srivastava, official spokesperson of the Union Ministry of External Affairs, said.

“We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic. We would discourage any speculation in this regard or any attempts to politicise the matter,” he added.

Expert talk

Some of these restricted APIs and medicines that India banned from exporting, were widely used in Europe and the US, Dinesh Dua, chairman of Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil), told media.

He claimed to have received calls from Europe frequently because of its dependence on Indian formulations. India controlled almost 26 per cent of the generic drug market in Europe and the continent had thus panicked at the ban, he claimed.

The way India was dependent on China for APIs or bulk drugs, other countries were also dependent on China and India, Ashok Madan, executive director of Indian Drug Manufacturer Association said. For 72 per cent of APIs, the US was dependent on China, while India imported around 70 per cent APIs from its neighbouring country, he added. Similarly, the US was dependent for formulations on India and imported around 40 per cent of its total drugs from the country.

The European Union was dependent on both, India and China, said Madan. European countries were dependent on India for 26 per cent of their generic medicines.

The COVID-19 crisis had shown all countries around the world to be vulnerable as they were dependent on other countries for medicine.

“Everyone has to come out from the concept of the global value chain and become self-independent. Though there must be business between countries, it should not be like the world goes into a crisis if one country is affected,” Madan added.

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