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India to curb export of antibiotics, vitamins as coronavirus crisis hits supplies from China

Modi govt has decided to restrict export of 12 bulk drugs — raw materials to manufacture medicines — and formulations made by them until further order.

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New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has decided to impose restrictions on the export of 12 drug ingredients, mainly antibiotics, hormone pills and vitamins, as supplies of these ingredients remain disrupted due to the continuing lockdown in coronavirus-hit China.

The death toll due to the deadly virus has crossed 2,000 in China.

A memorandum titled ‘Restriction on export of certain APIs imported from China and formulations made from these APIs’ was issued Tuesday in this regard by the Department of Pharmaceuticals under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers.

APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients) are the raw materials used to manufacture drugs. For example, Paracetamol is the API for Crocin. Indian drug-makers import around 70 per cent of their total APIs, also known as bulk drugs, from China. 

In the 2018-19 fiscal, the government had informed the Lok Sabha that the country’s drug-makers imported bulk drugs and intermediates worth $2.4 billion from China.

“The government of India is closely monitoring the supply of APIs, intermediaries and key starting materials (KSMs), which are imported from China, and effect of the outbreak of novel coronavirus on their supply,” said the memorandum, accessed by ThePrint, issued Tuesday.

“…The Department of Pharma has formed a committee under the chairmanship of joint drug controller, Central Drug Standards Control Organisation (CDSCO),” it said.

The committee, it added, after examining the situation has recommended to impose restrictions on the export of 12 APIs and formulations made by them until further order. 

The list includes commonly used antibiotics such as chloramphenicol, neomycin, erythromycin salts, acyclovir, metronidazole, tinidazole, ornidazole, clindamycin salts, female hormone progesterone and range of vitamins such as B1, B6 and B12.

Marked to the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, the health secretary, the chairman of National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Authority, the joint drug control of India and the director general at Pharmaceuticals Export Council, the memorandum requested these authorities to “issue appropriate orders restricting the export”.

Also read: India’s production of paracetamol, top antibiotics could be hit by China coronavirus crisis

‘Situation will worsen if supplies don’t come by mid-March’

Last week, Indian drug-makers had informed the committee during a meeting that they have API stocks for the next two to three months. Even under such a situation, the government decided to take a precautionary measure by restricting exports.

“While the committee was informed that several drug-makers in China have resumed operations but suddenly reports of a spike in cases of infections started coming in,” said an official, who is a part of the committee. 

“We have a comfortable stock position for two months but several reports suggest that the virus is likely to stay in China till April. The situation in India will worsen if supplies don’t start coming by mid-March,” added the official.

Indian drug-makers had, last week, handed over to the committee a list of 57 APIs that are likely to go out of stock if China is under a prolonged lockdown.

The list contained antibiotics such as Azithromycin, Amoxicillin, Ofloxacin, Gentamicin and Metronidazole, neuropathic drug Gabapentin, vitamin tablets and capsules such as B12, B1, B6, and E, female hormone progesterone and anti-cardiac arrest drug Atorvastatin, among others.

The committee has taken stock of all these drugs and their available inventory before proposing the ban on exports. 

Coronavirus in China

According to a CNN report, coronavirus has killed more than 2,000 people in China until now and infected over 75,000 “with more than 1,000 other cases detected in 28 countries and regions”.

“Wednesday morning, China reported an additional 136 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths there to 2,004, and the global death toll to 2,010,” the report said. 

Also read: Prices of Paracetamol, other bulk drugs jump as coronavirus crisis stokes fear of shortage


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