Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed long-standing supply chain issues that imperil the critical health-care infrastructure of the United States. First and foremost should be attention to the role China now plays in producing pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for the USA.
A Communist Chinese government agency stated recently that Beijing could “announce strategic control over medical products and ban exports to the United States. Then, the United States will be caught in the ocean of viruses.” China has achieved dominance in these vital areas in one short generation, by implementing policies of sweatshop labor, lax regulatory oversight, and massive government subsidies.
According to Rosemary Gibson, author of China Rx: Exposing the Risks of American’s Dependence on China for Medicine, “ [M]illions of Americans are taking prescription drugs made in China and don’t know it and neither do their doctors.” Chinese production of common medications is upward of 90% of ibuprofen to 45% of penicillin consumed by Americans.
The flip side of the Chinese dilemma is the reliance on protective medical gear for our health care personnel. We’re seeing daily in the media that Minnesota and other states have been facing shortages of essential protective gear for medical personnel battling the COVID-19 virus. The status quo— inventory models with worldwide supply connections—can not respond as quickly as this pandemic demands. Thankfully, American industry is retooling and stepping up to close this gap, but the dangerous reliance on worldwide supply chains and Chinese production has been exposed.
We must also confront questions about the quality of Chinese-supplied pharmaceuticals.
Dr. Ajaz S. Hussain, president of the National Institute for Pharmaceutical Technology, believes that “Tide detergent granules are better controlled … than many pharmaceuticals products.” Quality control is a serious problem—but not just with our Chinese suppliers. Lax regulatory environments permeate India’s manufacturing sectors, too. Alarmingly, the U.S. has dismal market intelligence on foreign facilities -the Food and DrugAdministration has responsibility for inspecting overseas production of prescription medications imported into the US. But according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security, the FDA last year inspected only one of five manufacturing facilities abroad.
How can we remedy this situation?
Last week, on the federal level, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and Congressman Mike Gallagher introduced the“Protecting our Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Act from China Act. In a nutshell, this legislation would create a list of drugs and ingredients that are deemed critical to the American health care supply, prohibit any purchases from China, require labeling that creates transparency, and incentivizes American industry to produce these critical products here in the USA.
To approach local supply chain issues, in 2019, Sen Rich Draheim R-Madison Lake, authored legislation that was signed into law, a means to open reimportation of lower-cost prescription medications from Canada that meet USA regulatory standards.
Our nation’s ability to respond to a pandemic has been tested in the coronavirus outbreak, but with prudent leadership, we can regain the lost ground of our national security.
Originally published in the Faribault Daily News