New Delhi: More than 22 crore tablets of hydroxychloroquine or HCQ, an early front-runner for Covid prevention and treatment, have been sold in India’s domestic market in the last three months, market research data has shown.
Combining the sales of the drug by chemists, e-pharmacies, the government’s Jan Aushadhi outlets and procurement by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, India is estimated to have sold more than 22.5 crore hydroxychloroquine tablets since March. And this does not include the procurement of the drug by hospitals as that data is not readily available.
The drug not only posted record sales in the domestic market, but also registered a massive jump of 700 per cent in exports between March and May, according to the data compiled by AWACS, a market research wing of the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), which is a lobby of 8.5 lakh chemists and traders.
Until last year, according to the AIOCD data, India consumed around 24 crore tablets a year — approximately 1.6 crore strips per month.
The anti-malaria drug, popularly known as HCQ, became India’s global strategic asset, with US President Donald Trump labelling the Rs-3 tablet a ‘game-changer’ in the fight against Covid-19.
In March, after Trump’s claim, two of India’s top drug-makers — Ipca Laboratories and Zydus Cadila — had received “sizeable orders” to produce the drug for the American and other foreign markets.
Chemists, e-pharmacies sold 11 crore tablets
Until February, the sales of HCQ at offline and online pharmacies were hovering around or less than 2 crore tablets. They were bought to either prevent or treat malaria, or to treat certain auto-immune diseases such lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the data.
But in March, the demand for the humble drug jumped due to panic-buying and stock-piling across India.
The sales boomed to 3.8 crore tablets by the end of the March, posting a jump of 90 per cent.
In April, it stood around 3.4 crore tablets, followed by 3.7 crore tablets in May. So overall, chemists and e-pharmacies sold around 11 crore tablets in the last three months.
Export of HCQs API and finished tablets
India, which has been a major exporter of medicines even before the coronavirus pandemic, has exported HCQ to several countries. The drugs were exported under two categories — humanitarian aid and commercial purpose.
According to data shared by the Pharmaceutical Export Promotion Council (Pharmexcil), which falls under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, India exported HCQs (finished tablets) worth less than $1 million in January. It increased by almost 15 times in May, when India exported HCQs worth $14.94 million.
India’s export of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) — the raw material used to manufacture the finished HCQ tablets — also went up by four times since January.
In January, India exported APIs worth less than $1 million, which quadrupled by May when the government exported $4.4 million worth of APIs across the globe, according to the data.
Government’s HCQ procurement
The Narendra Modi government, through its Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PM-BJP) scheme, sold 50 lakh tablets of HCQ between March and April, it announced earlier this month. But it didn’t release sales figures after April.
In April, the Jan Aushadhi outlets procured additional 1 crore tablets of hydroxychloroquine, considering its high demand.
The same month, the health ministry, in a separate order, procured 10 crore tablets from Ipca laboratories and Zydus Cadila.
The Centre had placed the order after the country’s apex health research body, the Indian Council of Medical Research, recommended HCQ be used as a preventive medication for Covid high-risk groups.