Protecting US medical supplies is a bipartisan national security priority

America is beholden to those who supply us. Institutions from the military to hospitals depend on imports from a wide range of countries, and not all of them are friendly. Relying on non-allied countries for essential goods makes us vulnerable. We can only improve this reality with bipartisan collaboration; that’s what brought together a Republican from Tennessee and a Democrat from California.

The pandemic has shown us how difficult and slow it is to reorganize complex international supply chains. Imagine how much worse the situation would be during an armed conflict, and you will begin to understand our new national security crisis.

The reasons for the crisis are not complex. Like any other buyer, the United States government seeks the most stable and cheapest suppliers. Unfortunately, this has created an overreliance on goods such as medical supplies made in countries, primarily China, that could arm the very supply chains that sustain us.

The escalation of tensions between the United States and China has highlighted this vulnerability. If Americans’ access to essential medical and pharmaceutical supplies were suddenly cut off, our national security would be in serious jeopardy.

The United States needs to strengthen its life sciences supply chain by moving it to countries with which we share friendlier relations and strategic alignment. This process will involve turning diplomatic success into strong economic relations, and a promising opportunity has recently opened up.

Workers produce antigen test kits for the Covid-19 coronavirus at a factory in Nantong, eastern China’s Jiangsu province, December 19, 2022.
STR/AFP via Getty Images

Negotiated by the United States, the Abraham Accords established peaceful relations between our powerful ally, Israel, and various Arab states in the Middle East and North Africa. Medical innovation and economic growth have closely followed these landmark agreements, and we are well positioned to benefit from them as well.

If America pursues this bipartisan friendship solution, the first step would involve the establishment of an FDA office in the Middle East. By creating a staging ground there, we are diversifying our offshore supply chain in medicine and life sciences while moving away from our dependence on China.

Both Israel and the United Arab Emirates have robust biopharmaceutical industries that make them natural allies in the United States’ quest to protect its access to vital medical products that are now mainly produced in China.

These allies also benefit from cutting-edge medical technology, research and development. With the FDA in their neighborhood to expedite regulatory reviews and partnerships, Americans would benefit from expanded access to life-saving medical technologies while accelerating pioneering health and biomedical technologies.

It would also lead to the manufacture of high-demand healthcare products for sale in the United States, including biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostics, and nutraceuticals.

We need to start this process as soon as possible because we have a big hill to climb.

Currently, active pharmaceutical ingredients imported from China make up about 90% of the US supply of life-saving antibiotics like penicillin, azithromycin and cephalosporins. It should also be noted that in 2019, China was responsible for 95% of US imports of ibuprofen, 91% hydrocortisone, 70% acetaminophen, 40-45% penicillin, and 40% heparin.

That same year, an FDA-mandated task force report claimed that drug shortages are a persistent and difficult to resolve problem, often lasting for years.

A major challenge is that we do not have a complete list of all biopharmaceuticals manufactured in China and imported by the United States. The suspicious absence of this vital list raises the following questions: who is hiding what and why? Whose responsibility is it to maintain accountability for this critical supply chain inventory?

If China were to inflict even a minor shutdown on the United States, the American population and military would find themselves extremely vulnerable and unprepared.

Offshoring some of our pharmaceutical needs to Abraham Accord countries, including Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco, will make America safer.

This collaboration between friends will not completely resolve America’s dependence on China, but notable precedents have already been set. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 included the “Expanding Medical Partnerships with Israel to Reduce Dependence on China Act,” which authorizes $4,000,000 per year to support collaborative research in the life sciences.

We see our situation as a huge bipartisan opportunity to bolster our national security while increasing America’s access to cutting-edge medical technology and innovation, but time is running out.

Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) who sits on the Financial Services Committee and Rep. Diane Harshbarger (R-TN) who sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee recently returned from a USIEA bipartisan congressional tour of Israel.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.


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