KATHMANDU, Aug 21: The volume of all retail medicines traded across the India-Nepal border during the blockade period between September 2015 and early February 2016 decreased by 46.5 percent compared to the same months in 2014/2015, a study report revealed.
A research carried out by Abhishek Sharma, Department of Global Health (Center for Global Health and Development), Boston University School of Public Health in USA and Shiva Raj Mishra of Nepal Development Society and Warren Kaplan of Boston University, USA collected monthly UN Comtrade data for exports of the various medical commodities from India to Nepal since January 1, 2011 to September 1, 2016.
The recently published study report extracted the data focusing on the retail dosages from medicines, insulin and medical dressings during the blockade period. Between 2011 and late 2016, more than 95 percent of all monthly exports of retail medicines in dosage from Comtrade code 3004 into Nepal from all reporting countries originated as exports from India, says the report. During the blockade, the imports of medical dressings dropped by 84.9 percent and 53.5 percent compared to the quantities that were imported in May-June 2015.
Mean monthly health related volume traded during blockade period from September to February 2016 is 343,870 kilograms against mean monthly volume of 642,163 kilograms traded during same months a year ago, the report reveals. “So, reduction in cross-border trade volumes during blockade period is 46.45 percent compared to the same months a year ago.”
Because of the shortage of medicines, the people suffering from different diseases would be deprived of treatment and face the risk of death by both communicable and non-communicable diseases, said the researchers. This is a human rights concern as “health cannot be separated from trade and governments need appropriate and effective policy coherence between the two”.
After the 2015-2016 blockades, it seems that diplomatic relations between Nepal and India have not returned to its pre-blockade levels even after two years, the researchers said. “Political considerations will always impact health and humanitarian concerns. Our retrospective analysis of cross-border trade in medicine during the blockades found that the money spent by Nepal on medicines over and above that predicted from four years of prior trade had significant opportunity costs with respect to the public's health,” they argued. “The more subtle role of trade in the absence of a trade perturbation will impact health systems in ways that are complex but that should be monitored.”
The India-Nepal blockade was a geopolitical natural experiment demonstrating how a land-locked country is vulnerable to the vagaries of its primary trading partner, according the report. “Although short-lived, the blockade had an immediate impact on traded medicine volumes and prices, and provided a large opportunity cost with implications for public health,” it concludes.