Coronavirus | India has enough stock of hydroxychloroquine, says Centre

Coronavirus | India has enough stock of hydroxychloroquine, says Centre

The Union government on Friday asserted that India had “sufficient buffer” of the much-in-demand drug.

The Union government on Friday asserted that India had “sufficient buffer” of the much in demand drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ). Export of the drug, believed but not clinically proven yet to treat COVID-19, to several countries had begun, it said. According to senior government sources, shipments totalling 23 million tablets of HCQ to 13 countries including U.S., Germany, Canada, Brazil, Bahrain, Seychelles, Mauritius and the SAARC neighbouring countries have already been cleared for export.

“A lot of requests of HCQ are already there and taking into view the domestic stock and requirement and keeping sufficient buffer, a decision was taken by the Group of Ministers to release some of the surplus medicine for export purposes,” Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said.

The government’s move won it many expressions of gratitude from countries that received clearances for their medical supplies, which had been held up for weeks after the Directorate General of Foreign Trade banned them for export.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the decision. “We have to jointly fight this pandemic. India is ready to do whatever is possible to help our friends,” Mr. Modi tweeted in reply to Mr. Netanyahu. “India is committed to contribute to humanity’s fight against this pandemic,” he tweeted to Mr. Bolsonaro. Acting British High Commissioner also thanked Mr. Modi for releasing paracetamol stocks for his country.

Exports of HCQ and paracetamol were banned last week but the government overturned the ban on April 6, allowing the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Department of Pharmaceuticals to assess requests from various countries and clear their supply. Twenty-four other drugs that were put on a restricted list in March have been cleared for export as well.

“In the next week, we will require one crore [10 million] HCQ tablets for domestic use. We have over 3.28 crore [32.8 million]. [So] this will complete the entire month’s requirement,” Mr. Agarwal said, dismissing reports of domestic shortages of HCQ as a result of the decision. Another 2 crore (20 million) were in production, he added.

Tharoor’s charge

However, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor criticised the government for the move. He alleged that it was not putting “India first”. “Reports of Shortage in India as Govt exports scarce drug to fight the Covid-19 Pandemic”, Mr. Tharoor wrote, citing shortages of HCQ in Rajasthan, which forced the State government to return stocks of the anti-malarial drug, which is also required by patients of Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

MEA officials said exports were being cleared for more than a dozen countries in three categories: humanitarian aid, aid to neighbouring SAARC countries, and commercial orders to countries such as the U.S. and Brazil, who have pushed the most for the release of HCQ orders for which their companies had made advance payments.

“We are in the process of providing humanitarian aid in the form of pharmaceutical and other items, including HCQ & paracetamol, to SAARC countries and to Mauritius and Seychelles. We would also be providing these items as humanitarian aid to some countries in Africa and Latin America,” an MEA official told The Hindu. “We are processing requests for medicines from other countries based on availability. These would be supplied on commercial basis.”

Cargo flights taking HCQ or Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) like chloroquine phosphate, paracetamol and some of the 24 other drugs cleared had been running regularly since April 8, said sources. Amongst the commercial cargo flights already dispatched are FedEx flights going via the UAE to the U.S. and Europe, a Garuda Air flight from Mumbai to Indonesia, Emirates Airlines to the UAE and Ethiopian Airlines flights to Addis Ababa and other African destinations, the sources said, adding that dozens of more flights are expected over the next week.

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