India’s syringe makers are boosting production to meet global demand, but lack of clarity from the government on lifting export curbs and on domestic requirements have put the companies in an awkward position, according to Hindustan Syringes and Medical Devices Ltd (HMD), the largest manufacturer of syringes in the world.
The Union health ministry is yet to respond to several letters from the company, seeking clarification on the quantities required for India’s immunization drive to plan its production better, Rajiv Nath, managing director, HMD, said in an interview.
“Until we have clarity on what the government’s needs are for 2022, we are in an awkward position of not knowing what we can clearly offer Unicef/WHO/PAHO/Covax for 2022 to help address global shortages,” Nath said. “Indian manufacturers have suffered an irretrievable negative impact because of this as we are termed as non-dependable suppliers.”
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization warned of a global shortage of syringes that could derail the covid-19 and routine immunization drives across the world. The WHO estimates a shortage of 2 billion syringes through 2022, according to Reuters.
Unicef also warned in October that it would fall short of 2.2 billion AD (auto-disable) syringes next year. The organization cited increased demand, supply-chain disruptions and ‘syringe nationalism’, which “could lead to significant challenges in 2022″.
Unicef said there is a need to put an “end to ‘syringe nationalism’ and the hoarding of desperately needed safe injection equipment”. Low- and middle-income nations will face the brunt of the shortage of syringes, it said.
The Indian government has maintained that it has not banned exports of syringes but has put restrictions on exporting certain types of syringes such as auto-disable syringes and disposable syringes.
“It is only a quantitative restriction on a certain type of syringes for a limited duration of three months,” the government said on 9 October.
Indian companies exported 1.44 billion syringes in 2020-21, according to government estimates. However, this year, to focus on the domestic covid-19 immunization drive, the health ministry wanted a ban on exports because the domestic syringe manufacturers were not participating in the tender process and using their capacity for exports. The export restriction was put in place till December 2021.
HMD has increased its production from 500 million syringes last year to 1.2 billion at present and plans to increase it further by 1.2 billion per annum by March/April 2022.
The company plans to allocate 500-600 million to the Covax facility. The company will contribute another 300 million syringes to other countries to counter the global supply chain shortage, Nath said.
“However, all this depends on the Indian government’s decision of relaxing exports,” he explained.
Indian syringe makers have been investing in expanding their manufacturing facilities anticipating global demand. However, the lack of clarification from the government on export relaxation has also led them to go slow on their investments.
“India averted shortage but made it into a global crisis by restricting exports because of lack of forecasting and timely procurement,” said a manufacturer who did not wish to be quoted because of the sensitivity of the issue.
As the December-end deadline for lifting restrictions approaches, manufacturers are yet to receive a forecast from the government on the country’s syringe requirements.
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