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Rising to the challenges

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Mahesh Doshi, National President, IDMA opines that government measures taken to ease operations in the pharma sector need to percolate down the line to reduce challenges and ensure an adequate supply of essential drugs to people within the country and across the globe

The COVID-19 pandemic has a direct and indirect effect on manufacturing and supply of medicines due to almost total lockdown. The pharma industry has been exempted from the lockdown, as it provides essential goods, i.e medicines, and is considered a part of essential services. However, there are many issues which are preventing the industry from functioning as desired such as:

  • Formulation manufacturers need raw materials, excipients, packing materials and support from maintenance services (spares, motors, pumps etc) which is not easily forthcoming. For import of APIs, custom formalities need to be completed, containers need to be unloaded, but labour is not available. Transportation from the port or airport would need to be facilitated, but currently, transporters are not available or are charging exorbitant rates. Packing materials include printed materials made by printers, blister foils, PVC and PVDC for blister packing etc. which are manufactured by ancillary units. They are not operating due to the shortage of staff and extreme harsh enforcement by the local police. Finished products in the various warehouses cannot be sent to the various parts of the country. Only skeletal services are available and only to select cities.
  • Downstream chemicals needed for API manufacturers are basic chemicals which are not considered essential and hence are not allowed to operate. Transporters involved in the various above activities would also have to be facilitated to avoid easy passage of raw materials, intermediates, packing materials and finished products.
  • Both formulation manufacturers and API units need a staff of at least 30-50 per cent attendance to run the plants. The staff has either gone to their native place or are unable to travel to the factory as local transport is not available.
  • Transporters are being stopped by police at checkpoints and hence, either not interested or are charging exorbitant charges since many drivers and cleaners have gone to their native place so there is also a shortage of them.
  • The Essential Services Pass system proposed requires personnel to go to the local police station where they live and obtain the passes. If the police station near the pharma units also issues the passes, then the company admin Dept may assist in getting the passes. The online pass issuing system is not functional in most cities e.g. Mumbai, Chennai.
  • It is essential that public transport is operated so that staff working to ensure essential services can travel to their place of work. If this is permitted, the staff will be motivated to come to work. Currently, due to the unavailability of public transport to the manufacturing locations, attendance is low.

The Government, however, has been doing its best to ensure that pharma manufacturers do not face a shortage of supply of raw material or labour or any other directly or indirectly related service. The Government has issued guidelines and rules however, it is not percolating down the line to district levels.

The DGFT had issued a notification restricting the export of APIs and formulations of certain antibiotics, hormones and vitamins, amongst other medicines. We have made submissions and also had regular interactions with the government to inform that the industry has ensured that stocks are available in the market and will also make certain that there is a continuous supply of these medicines in the domestic market. The government has heard our requests and withdrew the restrictions.

Similarly, the exports of key malaria drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was prohibited for export to ensure that it was available for domestic use. However, as there was a global demand for HCQ to boost immunity against coronavirus, we requested the government to allow the increase of production capacities to fulfil local and global commitments and also for increased demands in quantity from certain countries as they are dependent on India. The government has now allowed export after the manufacturers committed that they will ensure buffer supply for local requirements before exports.

The Indian pharma industry has always risen to challenges over the years. This one too shall pass and we will ensure that all types of medicines are available in the market for people within the country and all over the world as aptly reflected in IDMA’s theme, “Indian APIs and Formulations for Global Healthcare”.

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