Serious Concerns Regarding Our Medications in the United States
March 8, 2021
by Samuel Molind, DMD
When mission teams were going to China, it was always important for us to understand the cultural, political and power structures in the countries we were serving.
From the Cold War moving forward, the People’s Republic of China has been seeking to rival the United States as a superpower, pushing to increase its global influence. China’s gross domestic product grew at an average rate of 9.3 percent. A major driver of China’s fiscal growth has been the creation of monopolies for the production and manufacturing of goods that are considered essential. Today, the United States, Hong Kong, Japan and many other countries are strongly reliant on China for imported goods. These imports include vital drugs needed to keep people alive, as well as critical medical supplies and devices. The recent worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 has placed emphasis on China’s drug manufacturing monopoly and “what if” scenarios. What if China, sometimes the sole or main supplier of life-sustaining products, fails to meet production requirements? Experts say it would put the United States’ health system into a downward spiral and place millions of American lives in jeopardy. Thus, it begs asking: Is it time for America to retake control of its pharmaceutical and medical production?
China is developing strategic control, not only over manufacturing, but over the active ingredients required to produce critical medicines for major illnesses. Interestingly, the sale of Smithfield Foods, America’s largest producer of pork, which was a $7.1 billion transaction, was among the largest acquisitions of an American firm by a Chinese company, Interestingly, the raw material needed to produce the drug heparin to prevent blood clots is derived from pig intestines. In 2008, contaminated raw ingredients imported from China for use to make the heparin resulted in 81 deaths in the U.S. and left 785 severely injured. As reported by the New York Times, Chinese pharmaceutical companies supply roughly 40 to 45 percent of heparin to the U.S., about 70 percent of acetaminophen and more than 90 percent of antibiotics, vitamin C, ibuprofen and hydrocortisone.
This situation suggests many considerations and concerns. China does has not have an organization like the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and China’s inability to maintain quality control represents a challenge.
Blatantly stated, “If you’re the Chinese and you want to really destroy us, just stop sending us antibiotics.” In fairness to the Chinese government, they wish to be taken seriously on the world stage as a medical supplier. But in a worse-case scenario, could China intentionally contaminate ingredients? Is that a risk we are willing to take? Per the World Health Organization, there are three medicines whose ingredients are entirely sourced by China: capreomycin, streptomycin and sulfadiazine. Do we feel safe having China in control of these and other medications?