India has decided to partially lift the ban on export of paracetamol and anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine in sync with its global commitment to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said on Tuesday.
On March 25, India banned export of hydroxychloroquine in the midst of views in some quarters that the drug could be used to fight COVID-19. India is the largest exporter of the drug.
India’s decision came a week after a telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump, who sought supply of hydroxychloroquine to the US to treat coronavirus infected people.
Trump on Monday said he would be surprised if New Delhi did not relent to the request as it has good relations with Washington and warned India of retaliation if it did not export the anti-malarial drug despite his personal request.
Officials said India would export the drug on a case-by-case basis after meeting all the domestic requirements.
Reacting to the government’s decision of partially lifting the ban, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said India must help all countries in their fight against coronavirus but lifesaving medicines should be made available to Indians first.
“Friendship isn’t about retaliation. India must help all nations in their hour of need but lifesaving medicines should be made available to Indians in ample quantities first,” he said on Twitter.
Hydroxychloroquine is an old and inexpensive drug used to treat malaria. India is the largest producer of the drug globally.
“India has always maintained that the international community must display strong solidarity and cooperation. This approach also guided our evacuation of nationals of other countries,” spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs Anurag Srivastava said.
“In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ (hydroxychloroquine) in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities,” he said.
The MEA spokesperson was responding to media queries on the issue.
“We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic,” said Srivastava.
India is learnt to have received requests from at least 20 countries including its immediate neighbours Sri Lanka and Nepal for supply of hydroxychloroquine.
“Like any responsible government, our first obligation is to ensure that there are adequate stocks of medicines for the requirement of our own people,” the MEA spokesperson said.
In order to ensure this, he explained, some “temporary steps” were taken to restrict exports of a number of pharmaceutical products. He said a comprehensive assessment was carried out about possible requirements of various drugs under different scenarios.
“After having confirmed the availability of medicines for all possible contingencies currently envisaged, these restrictions have been largely lifted,” he said.
He said the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) has notified lifting of restrictions on 14 drugs on Monday.
“With regard to paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine, they will be kept in a licensed category and their demand position would be continuously monitored,” Srivastava said.