The coronavirus epidemic that's crashing the U.S. economy, putting lives at risk and derailing our entire way of life should serve as a wake-up call that the U.S. government must stop being reliant on China and other foreign nations for prescription drugs, medical supplies or any supply chain product or ingredient that's essential to our survival.
It's also a matter of national security. If members of the U.S. military and those who support our armed services don't get access to PPE (personal protective equipment), life-saving drugs and other necessities during a pandemic — and succumb to it as a result — we're putting our nation's security at risk from foreign adversaries who could exploit the situation.
"Medicines can be used as a weapon of war against the United States," Rosemary Gibson, a senior adviser on health care issues at the bioethics-focused Hastings Center and co-author of "China Rx: Exposing the Risks of America's Dependence on China for Medicine," warned lawmakers last year. "Supplies can be withheld. Medicines can be made with lethal contaminants or sold without any real medicine in them, rendering them ineffective, " reported Politico.
It's no secret that the United States is dangerously dependent on China for a bevy of medicines Americans rely on such as antibiotics, ibuprofen, penicillin and acetaminophen. "80 percent of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients are produced abroad, the majority in China and India; however, the FDA only inspected one in five registered human drug manufacturing facilities abroad last year," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and the FDA last year.
Grassley also warned about the risks that come with foreign manufacturing of pharmaceuticals:
"I strongly encourage the administration's demonstration projects to include unannounced inspections in foreign manufacturing facilities to determine whether they meet the required Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients and drug quality and safety standards to include sufficient record-keeping, testing and protections against counterfeiting."
Given we know that China is responsible for the start of COVID-19, and its subsequent mishandling and cover-up, causing irreparable harm to the United States, Europe and the globe, is this who we want controlling our critical medical supply chain?
Nor do we want to be reliant on any other foreign nation for potentially life-saving drugs or medical equipment such as masks, gloves, ventilators or other critical products. This includes India, whose government has just announced it is banning exports of a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, that we're told may be helpful in treating patients with coronavirus.
That said, the Trump administration and Congress must make it a high priority to work alongside the private sector to dramatically ramp manufacturing here at home.
The future of this country is at stake, and there's simply no time to waste.
Adriana Cohen is a syndicated columnist with the Boston Herald. Follow her on Twitter @AdrianaCohen16. To find out more about Adriana Cohen and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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