Despite an acute shortfall in protective gear for its medical personnel to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak, India has exported 90 tonnes of medical equipment and safety gear to Serbia, prompting criticism.
The matter came to light after a tweet from the Serbia division of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that is providing support to nations affected by the pandemic.
“The 2nd cargo Boeing 747 with 90 tonnes of medical protective equipment landed from India to Belgrade today.
The transportation of valuable supplies purchased by the Serbian government has been fully funded by the EU while UNDP Serbia organised the flight and ensured the fastest possible delivery,” the tweet said.
The consignment sourced from various suppliers included 50 tonnes of surgical gloves, besides masks and coveralls, that medical workers in India need desperately, media citing Indian officials reported yesterday.
Another consignment, which included 3.5mn pairs of surgical gloves, was sent to Serbia on March 28, according to Indian customs.
A federal Health Ministry spokesman denied any knowledge of the matter and declined to comment.
The supplies provoked criticism from people and opposition politicians.
“While frontline Indian health workers are struggling for protective equipment we are supplying Serbia...
Are we nuts? This is CRIMINAL,” opposition Congress leader Manish Tewari said on Twitter.
As many as 100 doctors have been quarantined in India after they came into contact with patients while working without any protective gear, NDTV news channel reported.
Several even contracted the virus.
While requests from medical staff for specialised protective equipment have not been accepted so far, there have been reports that doctors in some areas have been using raincoats and motorcycle helmets on the job.
The Health Ministry has maintained it was trying to procure bulk quantities of personal protective equipment domestically and from China and South Korea to fill the shortages.
Official sources said in the last five days, more than 60 cargo air services transported over 15 tonnes of essential medical supplies from China to India.
The supplies include reagents, enzymes, medical equipment, testing kits, personal protective equipment, masks, gloves and other accessories, the sources said.
The Indian pharmaceutical industry heavily relies on imports of bulk drugs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients – APIs, and intermediates), with more than 50% of APIs coming from China.
Imports from China have been on a steady rise over the years due to the low-cost advantage Chinese manufacturers have.
The value addition in India is mainly through formulation, packaging and distribution.
However, the coronavirus outbreak, which originated in Wuhan city of Hubei province, disrupted supplies of pharmaceutical ingredients from China, resulting in shortages.
The government in order to ramp up domestic production, completed a molecule-by-molecule mapping of APIs imported from China, in February.
“Ever since, local manufacturers are being encouraged to produce APIs and we are ensuring that we don’t face shortages,” an official source said.
China’s API production which had declined hugely due to the coronavirus outbreak, is now quickly recovering.
The bottleneck in the global supply chain for APIs is now shipping, particularly ocean freight.
China is focusing its production efforts on APIs that are in highest demand including chloroquine phosphate, which the FDA this week approved for use against Covid-19 based on anecdotal reports of its effectiveness, Xin Guobin, deputy minister of industry and information technology, told Chinese media on Tuesday.
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