India is considering a request by US President Donald Trump to relax the ban on supply export of hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug which, as Trump has claimed in the past, can help treat Covid-19 patients. Mentioning his conversation with PM Narendra Modi on Saturday, Trump had said India was giving “serious consideration” to supply the drug to the US.
On Saturday, India had further tightened the ban on export of the anti-malaria drug. The Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) decided to clamp down on all exports — including those by units in special economic zones and by export-oriented units, those that had used the advance authorisation scheme or had received payment for shipping out the drug. The tightening came within 10 days of the initial ban to ensure that there was no shortage within the country.
The DGFT has undertake a series of export curbs, including those on testing kits, ventilators and masks, after the proposal was cleared following inter-ministerial consultations, with the health ministry being an integral part of the talks.
Official sources said the US was not the only country which had requested the drug from India, which is among the largest producers of hydroxychloroquine, and that a decision would be taken keeping in mind the country’s requirements.
“This is not PPE kit which is in short supply. There are 2-3 important things to keep in mind before a decision is taken. First is India’s hydroxychloroquine production capacity. Second, our estimated requirements in the near future,” said a source. He said it was equally important to keep in mind the global nature of the fight against coronavirus and India’s commitment to it. India itself is looking to procure PPE and ventilators from abroad.
In India, ICMR has repeatedly said that hydroxychloroquine is not to be used by everyone and that it is being given to doctors and contacts of lab confirmed cases. “When their data will be complied, only then a call can be taken whether it should be recommended to everyone (who is at risk),” senior ICMR scientist Raman R Gangakhedkar said last week.
“I called Prime Minister Modi of India this morning. They make large amounts of hydroxychloroquine. India is giving it serious consideration,” Trump had said at a White House briefing on Saturday, adding that he would appreciate if India released the amount ordered by the US. Trump also said there were rumours that the antimalarial drug was effective and that “I may take it’’.
According to reports from China, hydroxychloroquine has been effective so far only in dealing with mildly ill Covid-19 patients and not those severely affected by the virus.
Before it fully banned the export of hydroxychloroquine and its formulations, the government had in an earlier notification said it would make an exception only on certain conditions. One of these was that exports would be allowed to other countries on humanitarian grounds on a case-to-case basis and on the recommendation of the foreign ministry.
Modi and Trump had on Saturday discussed the pandemic with the former reiterating India’s solidarity with the US in overcoming this global crisis together. The two leaders agreed to deploy the full strength of the India-US partnership to resolutely and effectively combat Covid-19, the government had said in a statement.