Prelims level : Medicines and Pharmaceuticals Mains level : GS-II Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector or Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
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Why in News?

Recently, the Department of Pharmaceuticals has warned of a Nationwide Shortage of Medicines and Medical Devices.

About the News:

  • It has urged the Ministry of Home Affairs to take immediate steps to help the drug makers resume production under the current lockdown.
  • The National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) had also written to all State Chief Secretaries on the problems faced by the pharma firms.

Key Points:

  • The Department of Pharmaceuticals under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers is entrusted with ensuring the seamless production and distribution of critical life-saving medicines in the wake of the lockdown to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • On an average, drug and medical device makers are functioning at only 20%-30% of their full capacity during the lockdown.
  • Production units engaged in making essential commodities, including medicines, vaccines, masks and their ancillaries have been exempted from the restrictions imposed as per the national lockdown.
  • If the production will not reach the pre-lockdown level soon, it would lead to shortages of medicines and medical devices in the coming weeks.
  • Both in the public and private sector, the seamless functioning of pharma manufacturing and distribution units is crucial in dealing with the crisis.
  • A helpline has been created for pharma producers’ operational complaints, which are also being referred to State Drug Controllers for suitable intervention.

Challenges Ahead:

  • Export of Indian pharmaceuticals offer a better price in global markets which can lead to disproportionate shortages in the domestic market.
  • Restrictions on mobility and production in several states.
    • Unavailability of labour, transport and courier services.
    • Reverse migration (from cities to sub-urban/rural areas) of labour and local workers.
    • Lack of public transport options and the fear of police action.
    • Drivers have left their trucks on highways fearing stoppage of vehicles on State, district and city borders and lack of food and diesel on the Route.
  • Closure of ancillary industries which are not being considered essential by few local administrations.
    • They supply packaging material, excipients (required for tablets and capsules manufacturing), utility consumables like briquettes/gases (required to run boilers) and spare parts.

Suggestions to Address the Grievances:

  • Suitable measures are needed to reduce the export and focus more on domestic needs.
  • State and district administrations need to be sensitised so that they can proactively fulfil the needs of pharma units to function fully.
  • Allowance to the pharma industry to ferry back their contractual workers from their native places and make courier services fully functional in metro, Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities.
  • Drivers with commercial licences should be allowed to move with or without a vehicle by treating it as a ‘pass’ during the lockdown.The apprehensions of the drivers need to be addressed and they also need to be motivated and incentivised.
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