Novel coronavirus spread globally like a bolt from the blue.
An outbreak of COVID-19 has already crippled the economy across the world. Meanwhile, all the pharma companies are facing new challenges due to the COVID19 pandemic.
India is the country that produced the largest amount of vaccines even before the pandemic.
There is no exception in this epidemic also.
COVAXIN is the first indigenous vaccine was approved for human trials and it is developed by Bharat Biotech in the collaboration with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and National Institute of Virology (NIV).
Other well-known Indian pharma companies like Zydus, Cipla, and Pune based Serum Institute and Panacea Biotech have been beavering away on developing coronavirus vaccine.
The United States requested India to supply anti-malarial drugs- Hydroxychloroquine which is believed to have some success in combating with the virus.
Image source- (Times of India)
However, Indian pharma companies face stiff rivalry from pharmaceutical firms in China, Japan, and Israel and experience negative lobbying from “big pharma” companies.
There are some deficits in the Indian pharmaceutical arena so that could not turn to self-sufficient till now.
API dependence on China:
Though India is considered as “Pharmacy of the world“, but Indian top drug manufacturers, including Dr Reddy’s, Lupin, Pfizer, Zydus are heavily dependent on China for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) or key starting materials to manufacture drugs.
The government has identified that 58 APIs for which the Indian pharma industry solely relies on China. Nearly 70% of API imports from China which brought about a matter of concern due to current geopolitical strife between India and China.
For some APIs, especially antibiotics, India’s dependence on China is over 90%.
(Image source- Times of India)
“They are attacking us in two ways- physically at the border and economically by increasing prices of APIs, key starting materials (KSM) and intermediates,” said Dinesh Dua, chairman, Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council (Pharmexcil).
The country has imported a total of 699 APIs, out of which 378 were from China and 321 APIs were from other countries as per collected data.
According to Health Analytics Asia, in manufacturing, India is always among the leading countries but in the availability of API, it is import-dependent.
Breakdown to import medical devices:
Several multinational companies put the shutter to import medical devices, including implants, surgical pieces of equipment, disposables, and electronic medical gadgets due to the obsolete tax structure.
In India, customs duties varying only from 0-7.5% which is comparatively very less so they do not have market access barriers and have free access to the Indian market.
(Image source- Business Today)
“Many manufacturers have reconciled with the fact that the government is seemingly unwilling to correct the low tariff structure prevalent since 2010.
They have adopted a new business strategy of importing rather than making in India as it is convenient and cheaper,” said Rajiv Nath, Forum Coordinator of Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AiMeD).
Domestic firms have also claimed that they are losing the competition to stake the execution of Goods and Services Tax (GST) as the cost of imports has gone down by 11%. Earlier, 6% countervailing duty (CVD) ad 4% special additional duty (SAD) charged on all imports.
There were no such advantages for medical devices traders. As a consequence, most manufacturers recurred to import their products from countries such as China with its labels and sell in the market.
India’s medical diplomacy is at danger:
Amid surge COVID-19 cases abruptly, India’s “Medical diplomacy” has had to face a dilemma in this miserable condition.
Its medical diplomacy has so far involved giving quick clearances for export of Hydroxychloroquine to countries like the United States that requested it and sending Indian military physicians to the neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Bhutan to help local healthcare associates to fight with the novel coronavirus.
On the other hand, countries that rely on India may refuse to co-operate with it or would look to secure their supply chain and invest in their production of generic medicines.
(Image source- Indian Pharma)
Hence, some pharma giants are asking India to utilize this situation of a lack of raw materials to its advantage and the government is requested to make a new strategy.
But according to some experts, the government has already begun a new policy to increase the production of raw materials in India itself.
But there is still a question about the implementation in reality.
Lack of research:
India is among the countries with the lowest (in the bottom five) investment in scientific research which is the recent cause of the agitation.
Scientists are asking for more allocation of funds to carry forward their research. Due to lack of intellectual property protection, lack of data protection, and more importantly low investment in R&D moving towards dependency on foreign countries.
The education system is to blame as well, transmitting solely theoretical knowledge without practical development.
COVID19 is a new normal that each country would have to learn how to live with.
The vaccine would be marketed in some days. Every country is now in a race to find a durable cure for coronavirus that would be a feather in one’s cap.
As India is a leading country in the pharmaceutical arena, it is the right time to become “ATMANIRBHAR” (self-reliant) by increasing the production of raw materials and other finished products itself because it is not a good sign to depend on another country.
The government should take initiative and revise the old policy by discussing with Indian Pharma giants. Research-based education is highly required to meet the deficit. Manufacturers should also come forward to make India self-sufficient.
These may not be possible in one or two days, however, gradually it can rise. And perhaps it would make headway towards “ATMANIRBHAR BHARAT” (Self-reliant India).
By – Saswati Chattopadhyay