India has restricted medicine exports - this is what it means for the UK

As pharmacies across the UK report a lack of stock due to supply difficulties and over-demand for items such as hand sanitiser and face masks, India has decided to limit one of its main global exports - medicine.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, India has restricted exports of 26 ingredients and the medicines made from them, including paracetamol.

Ingredients from China are also halted, as production has shut down and drug makers in India rely on China to provide nearly 70 percent of the active ingredients used in medicines.

India is a large medicine maker

Often referred to as the worlds biggest democracy, India is a major supplier of generic medicines. These are drugs that are no longer price controlled by large pharmaceutical companies, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

If you have ever wondered why brand name paracetamol is more expensive than unbranded, it's because the drug itself is no longer controlled by a patent. Unbranded drugs have exactly the same chemical composition as their branded counterparts - you are literally paying extra for the brand name.

Enough stocks for two to three months

The list of 26 restricted ingredients and medicines accounts for 10 per cent of all Indian pharmaceutical exports. It includes antibiotics, such as erythromycin, and supplements such as vitamin B12.

"Even drugs that aren't produced in China get their base ingredients from China. Globally there could be a shortage if China and India both get hit," warned analyst Shaun Rein from the China Market Research Group.

Due to the scarcity of ingredients, prices are already beginning to rise for drugs. Speaking to the BBC, Oxford Economic's lead economist Stephen Foreman said, "There are already signs that the reduction in supply to India has pushed up prices there considerably."

However, the Indian government has urged calm and said there were enough stocks to manufacture formulations for two to three months.