Drugmakers and device makers say sanctions could hamper medical supply in Russia

March 3 (Reuters) – Western drugmakers and medical device companies are warning that their plans to continue selling products to Russia could be complicated by economic sanctions targeting the country and its major banks as punishment over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sanctions imposed by the United States, Britain, Europe and Canada against Russia do not apply to medicines and medical equipment, and the industry has a responsibility under international humanitarian law to to continue supplying these products, said industry trade groups, policy experts and business officials.

International aid groups are pushing for essential medicines to keep flowing into Ukraine, where Russian troops are seeking to take control of major cities, prompting more than 870,000 Ukrainians to flee their country and millions to shelter from airstrikes. Already, pharmacies are reporting shortages of medical supplies. Read more .

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Many Western companies have said they will stop selling everything from cars to movies in Russia. Transactions related to drugs and medical devices, as well as food, were permitted despite US and EU sanctions.

But the sanctions that have cut off Russian banks from the international financial system, as well as decisions by major shipping companies to suspend services to the country, could also hamper the delivery of medical supplies.

The withdrawal of seven Russian banks from the SWIFT international payment system – as well as the ongoing assault on Ukraine – could cause disruptions, said MedTechEurope, the European lobby group for medical device companies. Without access to this payment system, it becomes more difficult to transact with Russia. Read more

“The freezing of bank transfers could indeed have an impact on the export of medical devices from the EU to Russia, and we are actively examining the extent of this and will see how the situation develops,” the spokesperson said. of MedTechEurope.

In a statement, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations called for the safe passage of medicines and vaccines to people in need in Ukraine, neighboring EU member states and Russia.

US pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA said it supported maintaining exemption from all sanctions for drugs and the materials needed to make them.

Under international humanitarian law, everyone has the right to access essential medical services and supplies, including medicines and vaccines, said Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University.

“In times of conflict, this right to uninterrupted access to essential medical supplies has often been violated,” Gostin said. “Governments imposing sanctions are also supposed to make an exception for medical supplies. Yet sanctions often disrupt medical services and supply chains.”

The United States, in a general license issued last week, authorized transactions related to the export or re-export of drugs and medical devices with Russia. It also issued exclusions for energy-related payments and international organizations, among others.

The US Treasury Department declined to comment on the matter.

The EU supplied Russia with 6.5 billion euros ($7.23 billion) worth of pharmaceuticals in 2020, around 8.4% of the region’s total exports to Russia, according to data from Eurostat. It sent around 1.6 billion euros worth of medical equipment to the country in the 12 months ending in September 2021, according to MedTech Europe.

US government data shows that in 2021, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment accounted for about 8% of all US goods exported to Russia. It sent $355 million in medicine and $157 million in medical equipment to the country.

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Leading shipping group AP Moller-Maersk (MAERSKb.CO) warned on Wednesday that shipments to Russia, including medical supplies, risk being damaged or spoiled due to significant delays at ports and customs. Read more

Drugmakers including Switzerland’s Novartis (NOVN.S), Denmark’s Novo Nordisk (NOVOb.CO) and Lundbeck, Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and America’s Eli Lilly, said they were working guarantee patients continuous access to their medicines.

Novo Nordisk, the world’s largest maker of diabetes drugs, said it would do “everything we can to maintain supply in Ukraine and Russia”, but it expects sanctions will make that more difficult. He has had problems delivering medicine to Ukraine before.

“The supply of medicines may be indirectly affected by sanctions in other areas, and we will do everything possible to ensure that Russian citizens receive their life-saving medicines,” Novo Nordisk said in an emailed statement.

Lundbeck, which specializes in treatments for depression, said it will continue to serve patients who need medication in Russia.

“As long as we can get medicine to patients in Russia under the current sanctions, we will,” Chief Commercial Officer Jacob Tolstrup said in a written comment.

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Reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels, Michael Erman in New Jersey and Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen; Additional reporting by Jennifer Rigby in London, Jason Lange and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago and Dan Burns in New York; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot

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