India revokes ban on export of hydroxychloroquine, drug used in treatment for COVID-19

India revokes ban on export of hydroxychloroquine, drug used in treatment for COVID-19

Move comes after U.S. President Donald Trump warned of “retaliation”.

The Government of India announced on Tuesday that it had rescinded its earlier ban on the export of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), which is now being used in countries such as the U.S. as a possible line of treatment for COVID-19, setting off a controversy over whether the two-day old blanket ban was overturned under pressure from Washington.

“In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities. We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations that have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.

In a notification on March 25, the government placed HCQ on a restricted items list, and then put a blanket ban on any export of the drug on April 4. The latest decision, which was taken at a high-level meeting on April 6, effectively overturns the previous notification.

The MEA indicated that pre-existing orders, mainly to the U.S., Brazil and European countries would be fulfilled, depending on the stock position and domestic demand for the drug, which would be “continuously monitored”. According to officials, more than two dozen countries have requested supplies of HCQ at the “highest level” in the past few days, but the U.S. and Brazil had stressed that they had made advance payments on their orders

The MEA announcement came hours after U.S. President Donald Trump said that India could invite “retaliation” if it withheld supplies of HCQ for which the U.S., Brazil and other countries have already placed advance orders.

India revokes ban on export of hydroxychloroquine, drug used in treatment for COVID-19

Trump-Modi telephonic talk

“I spoke to [PM Modi] yesterday, a good talk. I would be surprised [if India refused to supply HCQ], because India does very well by the U.S. For many years they have been taking advantage of the United States on trade….I spoke to him and said, we appreciate your allowing the supply to come out. If he doesn’t allow it come out, that would be ok, but of course there may be retaliation, why wouldn’t there be?” Mr. Trump said at a press conference in Washington. He also told reporters in a separate briefing that the U.S. already had a national stockpile of about 29 million capsules of HCQ.

While the drug’s efficacy is not yet clinically proven, Mr. Trump has been a proponent of its use, calling it a “gamechanger”. The Indian Council for Medical Research has also cleared HCQ to be used as a prophylaxis, or preventive medication, by doctors, nurses and other health staff.

‘Enough stock available’

The Union government says it had assessed that current stocks of HCQ and other drugs that have been freed for export are sufficient for “for all possible contingencies”.

“We are in touch with the Department of Pharmaceuticals, which has assured us that we have enough supply,” Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said, but did not respond to a request for exact figures of Indian stockpiles of the drug. “This drug is not recommended for use in general population. In India, it is still given as a trial drug to a restricted category of people, and should not be taken without doctor’s advice,” he added.

The MEA also denied criticism that its decision to reverse the ban had been taken under pressure from the U.S. and other countries.

“Like any responsible government, our first obligation is to ensure that there are adequate stocks of medicines for the requirement of our own people. In order to ensure this, some temporary steps were taken to restrict exports of a number of pharmaceutical products,” its spokesperson said.

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