Representational image of medicines | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
Representational image | Photo: Manisha Mondal | ThePrint
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New Delhi: With Chinese enterprises starting to resume work amid the coronavirus outbreak in the country, the Narendra Modi government plans to adopt a “wait and watch” approach before announcing curbs on export of medicines, ThePrint has learnt.

A committee formed by the government last week to tackle “drug security concerns” has decided to closely monitor the situation after the Indian embassy in China informed the panel that several drugmakers there have resumed operations, said a source who is part of the panel.

The move came after Indian drugmakers informed the committee during a meet Monday that they have active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) stocks for the next two to three months.

APIs, or bulk drugs, are the raw materials required for the manufacture of medicines. For example, Paracetamol is the API for Crocin. Indian drugmakers import around 70 per cent of their total bulk drugs from China.

In 2018-19, Indian drugmakers imported bulk drugs and intermediates worth $2.4 billion from China, according to government data.

Chaired by Joint Drug Controller of India Eswara Reddy, the panel had earlier planned restrictions on the export of drugs to prevent shortage of medicines in the country.

Speaking to ThePrint, a senior Ministry of Commerce and Industry official, who is part of the committee, said the panel has taken the stock position and import trends from all pharma companies over an e-mail.

“They have an adequate amount of stocks to produce medicines for the next two to three months,” said the official, who did not wish to be named.

“Also, we have been informed through the Indian embassy in China that some of the drug-making units have resumed work. There is no need to panic now. Also, until today, the situation is under control and there is no need for announcing export curbs or ban. Let’s wait and watch, we have enough APIs in hand,” added the official.

Also read: As Modi offers help to coronavirus-hit China, India to dispatch masks, gloves, face shields

Chinese resume work

According to a Chinese report, most enterprises in China have resumed production starting Monday.

In a circular, the Chinese government has reportedly “urged efforts to protect workers from getting infected and meanwhile resume production as soon as possible”.

Major hubs for API production are located far from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. Other centres like Zhejiang, which hosts several drug-making units, “have also been approved by local authorities to resume work as of Feb. 8”.

57 APIs likely to go out of stock

On Monday, Indian drugmakers handed over a list of 57 APIs that are likely to go out of stock if China suffers a prolonged lockdown to the government committee. ThePrint has seen the list.

The list contains 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.

Apart from Reddy, other members of the committee include drug associations IDMA, IPA and OPPI, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority and the Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council of India.

IDMA, IPA and OPPI represent top domestic and foreign pharma companies operating in India, including Sun Pharma, Lupin, Zydus Cadila, Novartis and Glenmark, among others.

Also read: Don’t arrange hotels, sightseeing for doctors — Modi govt’s fresh warning to pharma firms


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