Covid-19 battle: Govt may Lift Hydroxychloroquine export ban

New Delhi: India may consider relaxing restrictions on the export of hydroxychloroquine, used for Covid-19 treatment, a day after US president Donald Trump publicly appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow its exports.

The export of the drug may be allowed on a case-by-case basis, top government officials told ET. The government may place it in the restricted list which means that exports will not be banned and will be allowed for companies which apply and take a no objection certificate.

A meeting called by the cabinet secretary on Sunday and attended by the health secretary and pharmaceuticals department officials discussed this issue in detail. Officials said that the “industry has enough stock” of the drug in the country.

Exports of hydroxychloroquine and its formulations are prohibited “without any exceptions” and with immediate effect, India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) said in an April 4 order.

“There is no shortage of hydroxychloroquine as of now and its production capacity can be ramped up to meet the projected demand,” said an official.

‘No Communication So Far’

“While our main aim is that Indian should have enough, we will be allowing companies to export on a case-by-case basis after taking an NoC from the DGFT ,” another official said. Exporters, however, said that there was no communication so far from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) or the commerce and industry ministry on allowing such exports.

US president Donald Trump said over the weekend that he had urged PM Modi to allow exports of medicines already ordered by the US. America has the highest number of coronavirus cases so far in the world. The drug has been touted as a ‘game changer’ by President Trump, and India had banned its exports.

“They make a large amount of hydroxychloroquine, very large amounts frankly,” Trump had said. “They have a hold because they have 1.5 billion people and they take a lot of it,” Donald Trump had said in his weekly press conference. “I said I would appreciate it if they would release the amounts that we ordered and they are giving it a serious consideration. But India makes a lot of it,” Trump said.

The USFDA last month lifted the import ban on IPCA Labs for emergency supply of this drug.

Hydroxychloroquine, an antiviral drug also used by patients of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease, has emerged as a controversial treatment therapy for Covid-19. In India, the Indian Council of Medical Research initially recommended the drug for high-risk healthcare workers but expanded the scope last week to include patients with severe respiratory illness and those in the ICU.

The Covid-19 National Containment Plan has also recommended hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure for all those individuals moving out of the quarantined containment zones for essential services and also for household members of Covid-19 infected patients.

Some experts have questioned the efficacy of this drug but it is being used by companies and research labs collaborating on discovering a vaccine for the virus.

The Indian government is worried about hoarding of the drug across the world and wants to ensure that India will not face any shortages, an official negotiating this issue on behalf of the pharma companies with the government said.

Separately, the government is also considering relaxing export restrictions on a few non-essential medicines such as Vitamin-D drugs which are not immediately required. (With inputs from Divya Rajagopal in Mumbai)

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