With countries across the globe striving to protect their citizens, political leaders are on the lookout for drugs that are rumoured to be a cure for the coronavirus. The global pharmaceutical supply chain is heavily reliant on China and India for medical supplies and drugs. In order to combat worsening of an already fragile supply of medical essentials within the country, a ban on exports was put in place amongst other extreme measures taken to fight the rapidly spreading virus.
- Early March – Ban of exports on medical devices such as ventilators, sanitizers and surgical masks.
- March 3rd – Government has made amendments in the export policy and restricted export of specified APIs (Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients) and formulations made from these APIs
- March 25th – Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was placed on the list of restricted items.
In notification no: 54/2015-2020, dated March 25, 2020, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), said: “The export of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and formulations made from it is prohibited with immediate effect”.
However, the notification also mentioned that the Government will permit the export of the medicine on humanitarian grounds, after a recommendation from the Ministry of External Affairs. The export will also be permitted from Special Economic Zones (SEZs) /Export Oriented Units (EOUs) and in cases where the outbound shipment is made to fulfil the export obligation under any advance authorisation license issued on or before the date of this notification.
- April 4th – Indian Government partially lifted the ban on the export of HCQ.
India has got requests from 30 countries for HCQ, an anti-malarial drug to fight COVID-19. Leaders of several countries have raised concern with the Prime Minister personally, regarding the attainment of the drug.
- April 6th – The Government amended the export policy of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and formulations made from these APIs by removing them from restricted to free category.
The export ban was an attempt by the government to prevent the shortage of supply of essential medicines in the domestic market. This ban resulted in a strain on the diplomatic relations with countries that were largely dependent on India for their pharmaceutical supplies.
The anti-malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is said to have been used to treat patients affected by COVID-19. Several countries, including India, are approving it for emergencies and pharmacies are reporting a high surge in demand for the drug which is yet to be proven as the cure for the virus.
THE INDIA-US ASPECT
In a media debriefing, the US President, Donald Trump mentioned his phone call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He said “I didn’t hear that was his (Modi) decision. I know that he stopped it for other countries I spoke to him yesterday (Sunday Morning), very very good talk, and we’ll see whether or not that stays I wouldn’t be surprised if he would, you know, because India does very well with the United States. So, I would be surprised if that were his decision. He’d have to tell me that. I spoke to him Sunday morning, called him, and I said we’d appreciate your allowing our supply to come out. If he doesn’t allow it to come out, that would be okay, but of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn’t there be?”
Also taking a dig at India, Trump reiterated that India has been taking advantage of the US with relation to trade. Although, the drug’s reliability is not yet clinically proven, the US president has called it a “Game changer”, and further believes it can be used to change a lot of lives.
The Indian Council for Medical Research has cleared HCQ to be used as a preventive medication for doctors, nurses and other health staff, who are serving the coronavirus patients.
Apart from the US, about 30 countries, including South Asian neighbours and key global partners in West Asia, had asked India to lift the ban on HCQ exports.
THE DECISION TO REVOKE THE BAN
The ban on the supply of APIs was amended on April 6, after a decision by the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), panel. The decision that was taken by the experts was made after the panel had received enough evidence form the companies producing the drug, that there will be enough stock available in the country to meet domestic demands.
The companies were asked to provide weekly production details, and the decision regarding the quantity to be exported will be taken by NPPA Chairperson Shubhra Singh.
The use of the Hydroxychloroquine drug was recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research, for treating healthcare workers who were instrumental in serving the coronavirus patients.
“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,” said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.
“We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic” he added.
While some Government officials feel this is an arm-twisting move by the Trump administration and empathize with the situation, others take time to point out how the Modi government has decided to take a U-turn on the ban.
Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil tweeted, “It is embarrassing for the entire country that Donald Trump threatens retaliation if the Indian Government did not allow the supply of medicines. PM Narendra Modi who wasted one full month and Rs 100 crore for ‘’Namaste Trump’’, has now meekly surrendered and has revoked the ban on exports of medicines.”
The US, as of now, has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, with over 367,000 cases of infections and 10,800+ deaths. In comparison, India has somewhat managed to contain the pandemic with 239 deaths and over 6,500 cases of infections.
India has also received requests from several other countries including its immediate neighbours Sri Lanka and Nepal, for the supply of HCQ. The decision on the export of the needed drug has been made not just to strengthen the relation between India and various countries but also to put the country on a global platform for reaching out to provide aid in times of crisis.
With Chinese factories moving back to production mode and raw materials being exported to India, it is only fair on the country’s part to lend out a helping hand to those worse affected.