A new study, published in the BioMed Central journal Globalisation and Health \ has revealed that during the blockade (from September 2015 to early February 2016), the volume of all retail medicines traded across the Nepal-India border had seen a 46.5 per cent dip, as compared to the same months in 2014-2015.
Abhishek Sharma, a researcher from the Boston University School of Public Health and an associate health economist with Precision Health Economics, said this was the first empirical study on the impact of the India-Nepal blockade on access to medicines using quantitative time-series trade data.
India is the main supplier of medicines to Nepal. Between 2011 and mid-2016, generally over 95 per cent of Nepal’s imports of all retail dosage medicines (both prophylactic and therapeutic) were from India.
As per the study, for medical dressings, large volumes were exported from India to Nepal during and shortly after the earthquake in May and June 2015, but the figures have decreased since.
Besides, studying the “all retail medicines’’ basket, we also looked at medical dressings, retail insulin and some antibiotics, such as penicillin and streptomycin.
Experts said for several months, during the border blockade, Nepal paid $15.9 million more for retail medicines than one would have predicted based on its prior trading history with India, enough to provide health care to nearly half of Kathmandu’s students for one year.
Sharma, along with other authors — Shiva Raj Mishra (Nepal Development Society) and Warren A Kaplan (Boston University), had studied the impact of the blockade on Nepalese population’s access to healthcare commodities being imported from India by analysing the real-world trade data on unit prices and volumes before, during and after the blockade.
“They used their modeling technique and found that the impact of a blockade was immediate on imports of retail dosage medicines into Nepal from September 2015 to March 2016, which was about 46 per cent less than the same period in 2014 and 2015. The mean monthly volume traded during the blockade period (September 2015 – Feb 2016) was 3,43,870 kg. A year ago, it was 6,42,163 kg — a reduction by 46.5 per cent. However, some medicines, including antibiotics and retail insulin in dosage form, showed slight changes in trade volume across the blockade,” revealed the study.
“Monthly data for exports of various medical commodities from India to Nepal between January 1, 2011, and September 2015 was obtained from United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics database. Data were calculated from the value (USD) and volume (kg) and the month-specific unit price (USD/g) of each health commodity exported from India to Nepal. The trade blockade was defined from September 1, 2015, to March 1, 2016,” it added.
Researchers arrived at the estimates of how the money paid by Nepal, for a particular health commodity, was greater than what one would have expected from the country’s prior trade history with India. Sharma said, “We multiplied the monthly residual unit price for a particular health commodity by its total weight.”
During the economic blockade on India-Nepal border between September 2015 and February 2016, just after the huge earthquake killed more than 9,000 people and injured more than 22,000 people, shortage of energy supply like gas and petroleum had garnered media attention. However, public health—a not-so-talked-about issue—was badly affected by the blockade. This is because of Nepal’s dependence on India for medicine and medical equipment.