The government has exempted basic customs duty on all drugs and food for special medical purposes imported for personal use for the treatment of rare diseases.

The import duty waiver will come into effect from April 1.

Also, the government has exempted Pembrolizumab (Keytruda), used in the treatment of various cancers, from basic customs duty.

Drugs/Medicines generally attract basic customs duty of 10 per cent, while some categories of life-saving drugs/vaccines attract a concessional rate of 5 per cent or Nil.

"The Central Government has given full exemption from basic customs duty on all drugs and Food for Special Medical Purposes imported for personal use for the treatment of all Rare Diseases listed under the National Policy for Rare Diseases 2021," a finance ministry statement said.

Food for Special Medical Purposes is a food formulation intended to provide nutritional support to persons who suffer from a specific disease, disorder or a medical condition, as a part of their dietary management.

In order to avail this exemption, the individual importer has to produce a certificate from the Central or State Director of Health Services or the District Medical Officer/Civil Surgeon of the district.

While exemptions have already been provided to specified drugs for the treatment of Spinal Muscular Atrophy or Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the government has been receiving many representations seeking customs duty relief for drugs and medicines used in the treatment of other rare diseases.

Drugs or Special Foods required for the treatment of these diseases are expensive and need to be imported.

The ministry said it is estimated that for a child weighing 10 kg, the annual cost of treatment for some rare diseases, may vary from Rs 10 lakh to more than Rs 1 crore per year with treatment being lifelong and drug dose and cost, increasing with age and weight.

"This exemption will result in substantial cost savings and provide much needed relief to the patients," the ministry said.