The Centre’s decision to restrict syringe exports will put the domestic industry in an awkward situation, where international health agencies will view them as being undependable, said a nodal body for local producers.

Notification issued

Earlier this week, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) had issued a notification, saying the export policy for syringes with or without needles had been amended from ‘free’ to ‘restricted’.

“It takes lots of effort and years to build credibility as a global supplier and India’s reputation as (a) manufacturing hub of syringes will be tarnished as being undependable,” said the All India Syringe & Needle Manufacturers Association, adding: “We will always prioritise domestic needs.” To ensure there are no local shortages, on a voluntary basis, many Indian syringe manufacturers have not accepted new business export opportunities from many overseas buyers, they pointed out. In fact, HMD, for example, had advanced supply commitments to the Health Ministry and diverted the supply of 100 million pieces from a UNICEF order to the Indian government from September to December, they said.

Rajiv Nath, president of the association, urged the government to lift restrictions on non-Covid sizes of syringes like insulin syringes, 5 ml and larger syringe sizes or 0.3 ml auto-disable (AD) syringes, developed for Pfizer, which cannot be used in India for vaccination and will be a wasted capacity otherwise.

“At least 50 per cent of the quantity shipped to a country last year in October-January period of 0.5 ml / 1 ml / 2 ml & 3 ml may be allowed to be maintained,” he said, urging that a historical past performance benchmark be catered to, if rationing needed to be done.

Importantly, he said clarity was required from the Health Ministry on India’s quarterly needs for 2022, “as we can’t plan on 2-4 months window horizon basis”, he said.

“Countries are counting on India to support global immunisation / vaccination projects mainly for children for Yellow Fever or Measles, Hepatitis B, Pentavalent or BCG. Those are not the syringes used for Covax supplies of 0.5 ml AD. We cannot deprive those children from those immunisation commitments as those syringes will anyways not be used for Covid vaccination in India and will lie unused in our factories causing us huge losses. This is our ongoing global contractual commitments to support global vaccination projects,” said Nath.

Supply chain management is currently challenged temporarily due to peak seasonal spike in demand for standard disposable syringes for dengue and typhoid, he said, adding this would ease by mid-November.

It is important for the 20-odd Indian syringe manufacturers to focus on non-Covid curative care as its first priority, followed by preventive care oriented vaccination and honour export commitments, said Vimal Khemka, Association-secretary, adding that “turning off the tap” suddenly was disruptive and would create problems for the producers choking their production lines.

“Such a situation could have been easily avoided. Now business commitments will need to be dishonoured and credibility painstakingly built over the years and India’s reputation as a dependable supplier and manufacturing hub of syringes will be in tatters,” said Khemka.

“We wish Government had called for joint meetings between vaccine manufacturers, Government and syringes and needle manufacturers to create a balance between demand and supply,”he said, besides providing timely support for capacity creation of Covid critical medical devices with PLI schemes to incentivize capacity increase.