Coronavirus lockdown: Shortage of medicines, medical equipment foreseen, warns Department of Pharmaceuticals

Nationwide lockdown has resulted in scarcity of medicines and devices, the Department of Pharmaceuticals said and urged Home Ministry to take immediate steps to help drug makers resume production

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: social media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: social media)

NH Web Desk

During the nationwide lockdown the supply of medicines and medical devices has depleted leading to a scarcity of these items, the Department of Pharmaceuticals has warned Home Ministry, advising it to take immediate steps to help drug makers resume production amid Coronavirus Lockdown, a report in The Hindu said.

Drug and medical device makers are functioning “…on an average, at only 20%-30% capacity during the lockdown,” as per feedback from various industry formations, Department of Pharmaceuticals Secretary P.D. Vaghela pointed out in a letter to Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla on April 9, according to the report.

As the global market offers better price deals, half of India’s output of pharmaceuticals is exported, highlighted Department of Pharmaceuticals saying that this could lead to disproportionate shortages in the domestic market, calling for suitable measures to be taken “in the right earnest” to prevent this “avoidable” situation.

It was observed that units involved in manufacturing essential items, including medicines, vaccines, masks and the industries’ ancillaries were exempted from restrictions imposed after the 21 days lockdown was announced by the Prime Minister on March 24, 2020.

Nevertheless, several states had already imposed restrictions on mobility and production by then, although Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister urged state governments to ensure such production work continues, at a review meeting on March 22.

Though it was communicated to state governments repeatedly by the Home Secretary to ensure that the production and movement of essential goods is not halted but it did not change things on the grounds, prompting the Department of Pharmaceuticals to raise the issue afresh.

The letter reportedly cited unavailability of labour, transport and courier services as the biggest problems for the deadlock of services at many pharma units.

Ancillary industries services was also hampered because they are not being considered essential by local administrations and the police despite the Home Ministry’s directions, the letter added.

The Hindu quoted Department of Pharmaceuticals as saying that reverse migration of labour and local workers not reporting to work due to lack of public transport options and the fear of police action, combined with family and local community pressure, has made it difficult to operate factories even at lower than normal capacity.

The letter urges the Home Ministry to allow the pharma industry to ‘ferry back their contractual workers from their native places’ and make courier services ‘fully functional’ in metro cities as well as Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities.

State and district administrations need to be sensitised and nudged to be proactive to fulfil the need for pharma units to function fully, the Pharma Secretary has said in the letter.

“Many drivers… have left their vehicles on highways or dhabas and returned to their native places. Unless they are allowed to reach their vehicles, those vehicles will be left stranded and thus would be out of circulation,” the letter points out.

Even drivers who are not stranded in between trips are unwilling to take up work due to the “fear of ill treatment by the police, stoppage of vehicles on State, district and city borders, and lack of food and diesel on the route” the letter noted and said, “There is a dire need to not only address the apprehensions of these drivers but also to motivate/incentivise them (with insurance, etc.).”

“Ancillary suppliers of inputs, including packaging material, excipients (required for tablets and capsules manufacturing), utility consumables like briquettes/gases (required to run boilers) and spare parts are not able to operate/supply…”, letter added

National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) had also written to all State Chief Secretaries on March 26 after it learnt pharma units were facing troubles.

NPPA chairman Shubhra Singh noted that the seamless functioning of pharma manufacturing and distribution units, both in public and private sector, is essential in dealing with the emergent situation.

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