The pandemic has highlighted the fact that India depends on imports of vital medical devices. For manufacturing industries in general, this period has been a challenging time and highlighted the urgency for India to become self-reliant. While the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ ideology anticipated development, the ongoing pandemic rapidly affected the “self-reliant” discourse. The Indian pharmaceutical industry did well in the field of formulations and indigenous medicines, but with the gradual liberalization, imports from China entered the pharmaceutical market. To meet its drug requirements, the country is heavily dependent on imports. Chinese imports of some basic raw materials, particularly APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients), the bulk components for the production of finished drug formulations, meet around 70 percent of the pharmaceutical requirements. This led to the ignition of the old debate and principle of AtmaNirbhar Bharat of Mahatma Gandhi. This will lead to reform in urban and rural governance and laws to build an economic ecosystem affecting various fields, primarily health, education, and technology. A new campaign, Indian Goods-Our Pride, has been launched by the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), consisting of 60 million traders across the world. Fueling the boycott of Chinese goods is the concept behind this. Although imports can be reduced because of immense patriotic reactions, due to business constraints, manufacturing would still be reluctant to make any kind of improvement.
It is necessary for the government to work to revamp the structure of the pharmaceutical sector in accordance with that policy. Targeted financial incentives were initiated by the government to encourage the production of raw materials and to carry the larger production of APIs back to India. In order to create three API parks with common utilities, to recognize and reduce dependencies on China for 53 APIs, the Union Cabinet took a decisive move and implemented the Output Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme to further reiterate India’s objective to be self-reliant.
The government needs to use the current API units effectively. According to a McKinsey survey, the higher burden of diseases can be attributed to the driving factors for increasing the domestic market in India. The local production of APIs is stimulated by the country’s rapidly growing population. This offers pathways for pharmaceutical firms to not only appeal domestically but also to reach relatively higher age groups in foreign markets. The scarcity of distribution points and the lack of medication accessibility continue to be bottlenecks for the domestic market to be completely exploited by pharmaceutical companies. Owing to continued income growth and growing insurance coverage, the affordability of drugs will increase. In order to cover rural markets, greater expenditure on healthcare, and government-funded programs is required. For investments in healthcare infrastructure and funding, and higher per capita disposable income, enhancing economic growth is imperative.
As countries are willing to invest in the supply of COVID-19 vaccines and medical devices on the Indian market, this is an opportunity for India to become truly atmanirbhar in the pharmaceutical field.