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We can’t keep outsourcing health care equipment

Sources ranging from the CIA to the Census Bureau disagree on how reliant we Americans are on drugs and medical equipment imported from China. Extend that to international agencies and the variances are even greater.

For example, some sources place China far down on the list of countries exporting drugs to the United States. We are about 15 times more dependent on Ireland, according to the International Trade Centre. We import only about $2.6 billion dollars’ worth of drugs a year from China, agrees the Census Bureau.

Other analysts say the reliance is substantially greater, especially for certain medicines such as antibiotics. As much as 45% of the penicillin we use here comes from China. Reportedly, there are no U.S. manufacturers of the basic antibiotic.

Not being able to produce a single dose of penicillin ought to be a red flag. Clearly, that needs to change.

Americans have been warned for decades that we were becoming too reliant on other countries for certain products. Steel is an example; some of that used in defense industries must be imported.

When it comes to life-saving medicines and medical equipment, buying too much from abroad can put Americans in jeopardy. We are learning that now, during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It has resulted in Chinese companies curtailing exports of certain types of medical supplies, including the N-95 facemasks you have heard so much about. One can hardly blame the Chinese for conserving such products for domestic use.

That does not help Americans, however.

As soon as the epidemic is over and U.S. officials can focus on what went wrong, Congress should launch an inquiry into our dependence on foreign sources of drugs, health care supplies and medical equipment. The first step ought to be determining just how great that reliance is. Once we learn that, decisions about whether steps should be taken to keep more production here can be decided upon and implemented.

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