BETWEEN APRIL and May, 2015, devastating earthquakes followed by the ‘border-blockade’ imposed by the Indian government had resulted in a shortage of essential commodities, such fuel, medicines and healthcare, in Nepal.
While the shortage was reported, its impact had not been quantified.
A new study, published in the BioMed Central journal Globalisation and Health on August 22, has revealed that during the blockade (from September 2015 to early February 2016), the volume of all retail medicines traded across the India-Nepal 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.
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 healthcare to nearly half of Kathmandu’s students for one year, said experts.
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 blockade was immediate on imports of retail dosage medicines into Nepal from September 2015 to March 2016, which were 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 was 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.”