India is one of the world’s leading producers of antibiotics


India produces 20% of all generic drugs in the world, but depends on Chinese ingredients to manufacture the drugs.

Lise BjerkePhoto: Private

– We know that today many antibiotics are produced and exported from India and China, but few researchers have tried to determine the exact amount, says Lise Bjerke, doctoral candidate in the Department of Community Medicine and Global Health of the University of Oslo. .

Bjerke studies how antibiotics move between different countries and markets around the world, and has tracked antibiotics produced in India.

– Often the production lines are hidden and it can be difficult to see where the medicines and their ingredients come from. For example, when the ingredients are produced in India or China and the drugs are produced elsewhere, says Bjerke.

The article “Geographies of Antibiotics and Access to Medicines: Tracing the Role of India’s Pharmaceutical Industry in Global Commerce” was first published in Social Science & Medicine.

Access to medicines is crucial to prevent antibiotic resistance

– The covid-19 pandemic has shown the importance of having access to medicines when needed, and that global and local restrictions can disrupt global pharmaceutical production and trade, says Bjerke.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that two billion people worldwide do not have access to basic medicines. Bjerke geographically traced the global export of antibiotics. She used international trade data and literature to study India’s role in the global pharmaceutical industry, mapping and describing changes in Indian antibiotic exports over time.

– Having access to the right type of antibiotics, at the right time, is essential for fighting disease and preventing antibiotic resistance on a global scale. Antibiotics are used to treat infectious diseases. If there is a shortage of different types of antibiotics, broader-spectrum antibiotics may be used when not needed, which can again lead to increased antibiotic resistance, she explains.

India is described as “the pharmacy of the world”

India has the world’s third largest pharmaceutical industry, measured by production volume, and is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of antibiotics, especially older types of antibiotics, such as penicillin. .

Over the past decade, researchers have found a huge growth in India’s antibiotic exports, rising from $268 million in 1996-97 to $2.4 billion in 2018-19.

– Most Indian medicines are exported to the north of the world, with the United States being the biggest importer, measured by value, says Bjerke.

– Several countries in Africa and Asia import antibiotics and ingredients used to make antibiotics from India, and rely heavily on importing drugs from here to gain access to them, she explains.

India depends on Chinese ingredients to make antibiotics

India depends on importing ingredients used to make antibiotics from China. Imports have risen sharply over the past 20 years.

– China is the world’s largest producer of pharmaceutical ingredients, used to make antibiotics. During the covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown of fabrics producing pharmaceutical ingredients in China also led to access issues in India, says Bjerke.

With India being the world’s largest producer of antibiotics, this opens up opportunities, but also concerns about access to these life-saving drugs in other countries.

– India can help meet the global drug needs, but the now well-established Indian pharmaceutical industry makes it difficult to succeed with the local pharmaceutical industry in other countries. Moreover, it is often not economically advantageous to produce and export older types of antibiotics, as they have a low market value, Bjerke says.

– India depends on importing ingredients from China to be able to manufacture medicines, and relations between China and India have become strained due to border disputes in recent years, she said.

From a historical perspective, the pharmaceutical industry in India has been crucial for economic independence and access to medicines. Indian political governance and the removal of product patents on drugs in the 1970s played a pivotal role in the growth of the industry. This made it possible to develop, produce and sell drugs that were still patented elsewhere.

A UiO research project studies the production and distribution of antibiotics

Bjerke is part of the research project “From Asia to Africa: Trajectories of Antibiotics through the Indian Ocean” (FAR) at the University of Oslo. FAR is funded by the Research Council of Norway and is an interdisciplinary project investigating the roles of India and China as global producers of antibiotics, both historically and today. Bjerke studies how antibiotics are distributed, regulated and used around the world, particularly in countries in the global South.

The research project is led by Heidi Fjeld, Professor in the Department of Community Medicine and Global Health, UiO.

– The aim of the FAR project is to better understand how antibiotics, as medicines and commodities, move around the world, tracking antibiotics as objects, exploring the social, economic and cultural aspects of production, regulation and consumption, from which they are produced. in Asia and until it reaches patients and farmers in Africa, says Fjeld.

The FAR research group studies the regulation and use of antibiotics, particularly among farmers, animals and other actors in the agricultural industry in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania. Several members of the research group carry out fieldwork in Tanzania and India.

/Public release from the University of Oslo. This material from the original organization/authors may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author or authors.View Full here.

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