New Delhi/April 7: Against the backdrop of US President Donald Trump warning of retaliation, India has allowed the export of a drug considered vital for the treatment of Covid. The government on Tuesday said it would allow the US to import from India previously contracted shipments of the drug. Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) came into limelight after Trump said he wanted to eliminate all barriers to make it available for the treatment of Covid patients in the US where the death toll has crossed 10,000.
Trump followed up his request to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow export of HCQ by warning India that the US may retaliate if it did not export the drug despite his personal request, saying he would be surprised in case of a negative outcome as New Delhi has good relations with Washington.India has been preserving HCQ stocks after preliminary findings in the US said it had “significant clearance of the SARS-CoV-2 viral load in the nasopharynx compared with non-treated controls”.
India put on a brave front on its decision to reverse the export ban on HCQ and paracetamol as well as a second decision taken on Monday to lift a one-month ban on 13 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). It said the decision to recommence exports of 13 APIs was based on a comfortable stock position. HCQ and paracetamol were shifted from the restricted to the licensed list (meaning case-by-case clearance) after balancing the domestic stock position with India’s obligation to supply it to nations badly affected by the pandemic, said the Ministry of External Affairs.
Not just Trump but several world leaders in phone calls to Modi had requested India for reconsideration, especially on releasing shipments previously contracted by US companies.
The MEA also indicated that apart from fulfilling previous contract obligations and meeting personal requests from world leaders, India will accord top priority to sending paracetamol and HCQ to neighbouring countries that are “dependent on Indian capabilities”, thus indicating that Pakistan may not make the cut.Further rationalising the decision to allow limited exports of HCQ and paracetamol, the MEA said India had always maintained that the international community must display strong solidarity and cooperation.
MEA spokesperson Anurag Shrivastava said the March 3 order banning the export of over a dozen drugs and the reversal was actually a temporary step as part of the obligation of “any responsible government” to ensure that there are adequate domestic stocks of medicines. Subsequently, the curbs were largely lifted after an assessment confirmed the availability of medicines for all possible contingencies, he maintained while asking that the issue should not be politicised.
Other sources agreed and said apart from paracetmol, most of these are not directly connected with the treatment of Covid. The API and formulations on which export restrictions were lifted are primarily made in Hubei province, the COVID-19 epicentre, whose lockdown prompted the government to impose export restrictions in March to conserve stocks for domestic deployment. The fear of shortages receded after Chinese pharma companies got back on track towards the beginning of this month.
The APIs and medicines on which export restrictions have now been lifted include Vitamin B1, B6, B12 and their formulations; progesterone and its formulations plus antibiotic APIs like erythromycin salts, Tinidazole, Neomycin and drugs manufactured using these.
The restrictions were placed after an assessment which warned that the stock-in hand of APIs may be sufficient for two to three months to manufacture formulations.
In India, the main API makers for HCQ are Ipca Laboratories and Zydus Cadila and the US is now ready to overlook a three-year ban by the US Federal Drug Authority on one of the companies.