India is the world’s biggest manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), an anti-malarial drug that US President Donald Trump is pushing as a “game-changer” in the fight against COVID-19.
However, health officials around the world emphasize that there is no evidence that any drug, including HCQ, can cure or prevent a COVID-19 infection. But that hasn’t stopped countries around the world asking India for shipments.
In response to high global demand, late last month India’s trade regulator issued an order restricting the export of HCQ on “case-by-case” basis.
Trump threatened “retaliation” if India does not release stocks of the drug. Indian officials agreed quickly thereafter to partially lift the ban and said exports of HCQ and paracetamol would be allowed unhindered.
However, scientists from the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s premier medical research body, have advised people not to take HCQ without a prescription. Chloroquine can be deadly if not dosed properly.
Medicine made in India
Apart from “sizeable” orders from the US, around 30 countries including Brazil and several South Asian nations, have asked India to supply them with HCQ. Reportedly, Indonesia, Australia and Germany have also reached out to Indian manufacturers of the drug.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was assured by Modi that a shipment of chemical precursors from India would be dispatched to boost Brazil’s chloroquine production.
India is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of generic drugs, with the US and Europe heavily reliant on the supply. According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, India exported about $19 billion (€17.4 billion) worth of drugs in 2019, accounting for about one-fifth of the world’s exports of generics by volume.
Indian pharma industry officials maintain that India has a sufficient supply of HCQ, and companies are ready to ramp up capacity to meet both domestic and export demand.
An estimated 200 million 200mg HCQ tablets can be churned out by Indian factories every month.
Indian Pharmaceutical Association secretary general Sudarshan Jain said India manufactures 70% of the world’s HCQ supply.