New Delhi: India has imposed a blanket ban on the export of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) that has caught the world’s attention as a possible cure to the novel coronavirus Covid-19, even as US President Donald Trump has requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an urgent supply of the drug.
The drug has been touted as a ‘game-changer’ in the fight against the disease that has infected more than 1.2 million people worldwide and induced a global recession in just a few months. In India, the number of cases jumped to over 3,000 in 10 days.
Trade regulator Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGT) Saturday issued the ban on the drug and its formulations, modifying a 25 March order that allowed trade with “limited exceptions”, such as on humanitarian grounds and for meeting prior commitments. It had also allowed exports from special economic zones (SEZs) or from Export Oriented Units (EOUs).
“I called Prime Minister Modi of India this morning. They make large amounts of Hydroxychloroquine. India is giving it a serious consideration,” Trump said during his daily news conference at the White House. The US currently has around 2.88 lakh active cases while over 8,000 people have died.
It, however, remains unclear whether the order was issued before or after Trump’s call.
Ahead of the curve
India is a leading global player in the manufacturing of HCQ with Ipca laboratories, Zydus Cadila, Wallace Pharmaceuticals and Cipla as top pharma companies. A derivative of chloroquine, HCQ has lesser side-effects.
According to national drug availability and price watchdog, National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Authority (NPPA), India can produce 20 crore tablets of HCQ every month. “If HCQ proves further relevance, its production can be jacked up,” Shubhra Singh, chairman, NPPA told ThePrint.
India’s move to ban the export of HCQ will ensure sufficient domestic supply as the country braces for a more dire situation.
The government had released an advisory on 22 March which recommended that healthcare workers and high-risk individuals use the anti-malarial drug to prevent contracting the viral infection. Following the advisory, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare placed an order for 10 crore tablets of HCQ.
Experts, however, have warned against a wide use of the drug until more clinical trials of HCQ and its effectiveness on coronavirus are conducted.