India is prioritising the supply of a potential coronavirus drug to its own people by banning exports, as other countries, hospitals and even individual doctors join the global grab for an unproven treatment hailed by US President Donald Trump as a game-changer.
The world’s largest exporter of generic drugs, India has recommended that its healthcare workers and high-risk individuals use the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to try to prevent Covid-19 infections.
There has been a surge in global demand for both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, a similar drug with greater side effects, despite a lack of solid scientific evidence that they work against the novel coronavirus.
India is one of the largest producers of hydroxychloroquine, with drugmakers Zydus Cadila and IPCA Laboratories among the biggest manufacturers. The country has also banned exports of the active pharmaceutical ingredient in the drug.
“We are at the moment ramping up our production of hydroxychloroquine to meet the requirements to about 150m to 200m pills a month”, Zydus Cadila said.
An early study from France last week suggested chloroquine could be helpful, but it was carried out on small numbers of patients and without the rigour of a randomised control trial. Another small trial from China, published on Tuesday, showed the drug had no impact. Larger trials — including one in New York and a multinational programme run by the World Health Organization — are just starting.
Mr Trump has touted the drugs frequently from the White House podium and in tweets, sparking a surge in US hospitals stockpiling the drugs for Covid-19 patients and individual doctors procuring supplies for themselves and their friends and families.
The theory seems to provide support for why much of Africa and India where malaria has found home are also regions where cases of Coronavirus have the fewer and most mild.
In Nigeria the authorities have given approval for clinical trials for the drug while Senegal announced yesterday its doctors had recorded I,press ice results in the use of the medicine in the treatment of Coronavirus patients there.
India’s trade regulator had last month restricted overseas shipments of the drug, allowing only limited exceptions such as on humanitarian grounds and for meeting prior commitments.
The new ban reflects India’s rising concern over the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, with incidents of community spread emerging from different parts of the country of 1.3 billion people.
It comes on a weekend when Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the global supply chain for drugs and other medical supplies with Trump, who has advocated the use of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for people with Covid-19. Its efficacy against coronavirus infections remains unproven.
India has recorded 3,374 positive cases so far and has lost 77 lives, according to the federal health ministry. The country has struggled to keep people indoors during a three-week lockdown that started March 25, raising fears of accelerating spread.