US President Donald Trump has said he has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to relax India’s ban on hydroxychloroquine tablets so that the drug can be used to treat America’s COVID-19 patients. A day earlier, India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade had prohibited export of the anti-malarial drug, which the Trump administration has described as a game-changer in the battle against the novel coronavirus. The US president’s request is reportedly on the table of the high-level Group of Ministers (GoM) that reviews, monitors and evaluates the country’s COVID-19 response activities. The GoM headed by Union Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh must take into account the interests of all stakeholders in the country before arriving at a decision on relaxing the export ban.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommends the use of hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic for asymptomatic healthcare workers and contacts of people who have been infected by the virus. The ICMR’s decision on wider use of the drug will, reportedly, depend on further research. At the same time, research in other parts of the world has sparked interest in a more expansive use of the anti-malarial medicine. A study by Chinese researchers, in February, for instance, showed that the drug speeded up the recovery of COVID-19 patients who had suffered pneumonia. Experiments on the drug have also yielded promising results in France. Some experts have called for more tests before hydroxychloroquine is held up as a cure for COVID-19. But some of the early naysayers of the drug, including the US Food and Drug Administration, have now come around to recommending its use in emergency situations. Hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 palliative, by all accounts, seems to be a work in progress. However, in a world embroiled in a grim struggle against COVID-19, reports of the early success of the drug have generated hope — especially in the US, the country hit hardest by the pandemic. In such a situation, it is critical that India’s decision on the US request be an informed and considered one.
Brazil has joined the US in urging India to lift the ban on hydroxychloroquine — India is one of the global leaders in the production of the drug. As the country plans to intensify the battle against the novel coronavirus in hotspots, the GoM’s decision must be based on consultations with a wide range of experts — scientists, public health and foreign policy experts and representatives of the pharma industry.