New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government is looking at procuring 1 crore tablets of hydroxychloroquine, which has caught the world’s attention as a possible cure to the novel coronavirus, for its affordable medicine scheme Pradhan Mantri Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PM-BJP), ThePrint has learnt.
The move comes after the Union Ministry of Health decided to procure 10 crore tablets of hydroxychloroquine from pharmaceutical majors Ipca Laboratories and Zydus Cadila.
The government is ready to float another order for 1 crore tablets, which will be stocked with medical stores under the Jan Aushadhi scheme.
The government normally procures 10-15 lakh of the tables annually under the scheme as they are also sold for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
“We are preparing a tender for the procurement of 1 crore tablets for the retail outlets. The drug will be sold only on the valid prescription and retailers will follow the rules applied for selling drugs under schedule H1,” said a senior official at the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP), Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers, who did not wish to be named.
The scheme, implemented by the Bureau of Pharma PSUs of India (BPPI), comes under the ambit of DoP.
“We have requested Zydus Cadila and Ipca Laboratories to participate in the tender process. The price quoted for the procurement is Rs 3.50 per tablet,” the official added.
The two companies are the country’s largest manufacturers of the anti-malarial drug.
Until now, hydroxychloroquine came under ‘Schedule H’ of the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945 — the law which regulates the import, manufacture and distribution of drugs. It has now been moved to the stricter Schedule H1.
Under both schedules, the drug can be sold only on prescription. However, moving to a stricter schedule means chemists will have to keep a record of the prescription for every purchase of hydroxychloroquine.
Jan Aushadhi stores and the Covid-19 fight
Under the Jan Aushadhi Pariyojana, the government operates 5,000 medical stores across the country for affordable medicines. It is a popular scheme of the Narendra Modi government and comes with some surrogate branding for the BJP.
The government expects a jump in demand if the drug is proved successful in treating Covid-19 and wants to stockpile them in the Jan Aushadhi stores. They will also act as a buffer stock.
In February, the government procured masks from the Jan Aushadhi retail outlets when it sent “emergency supplies” to China.
“Similarly, we can help the government later in case of any emergency, for the supply of HCQ as well. Also, our stores are available across India including remote areas. In the future, if the drug gets approval for showing efficacy in the treatment, we will have enough stocks,” said the official quoted above.
Originally named the Jan Aushadhi Yojana (JAY) when launched by the Congress-led UPA government in 2008, the scheme was re-branded and relaunched in 2015 by the Modi government as the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi Yojana (PM-JAY), with the PM receiving credit for reviving it.
In 2016, it was again renamed to Pradhan Mantri Bharatiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PM-BJP), with PM Modi making it a point to aggressively promote it in his election rallies.