Hydroxychloroquine: India agrees to release drug after Trump retaliation threat

The above is the title of a report by BBC.com this morning (April 7).  India has agreed to lift an export ban on a drug US President Donald Trump has called a “game-changer” in the fight against coronavirus, despite reservations from medical experts.

The decision came after Mr Trump warned of “retaliation” if India did not drop the ban on hydroxychloroquine exports.

India is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of hydroxychloroquine.

What happened between the US and India?

President Trump – who, according to the New York Times, owns a “small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes… the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine” – called Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 5 Sunday, a day after India banned all exports of the drug “without exception”.

The decision came even as Indian cases spiked – as of Tuesday, the country reported 3,981 active cases and 114 deaths due to the virus.

The next day, local media reported that India would “consider” the request.

The same day, speaking at a White House press briefing, Mr Trump said he did not “like” India’s decision to ban the export of the drug. “But of course, there may be retaliation,” he said. “Why wouldn’t there be?”

It is unclear how much will now be exported. Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said on Tuesday that the “the stock position could allow our companies to meet the export commitments that they had contracted”.

India’s statement on Tuesday also said that apart from “nations badly affected by the virus” it would supply the drug to neighbouring countries in “appropriate quantities” given the “humanitarian aspects of the pandemic”.

(For more : https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-52196730)

What is hydroxychloroquine?

Hydroxychloroquine is very similar to chloroquine, one of the oldest and best-known anti-malarial drugs.  But the drug – which can also treat auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus – has also attracted attention over the past few decades as a potential antiviral agent.

President Trump said that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved it for treating coronavirus, something the organization has denied.                   Mr Trump later said that it had been approved for “compassionate use” – which means a doctor can give a drug that is yet to be cleared by the government to a patient in a life-threatening condition.

Doctors are able to prescribe chloroquine in these circumstances as it’s a registered drug.

In India, hydroxychloroquine could be bought over the counter and is fairly inexpensive, but its purchase and use has been severely restricted ever since it was named as a possible treatment for Covid-19.

However, according to India’s Business Standard, manufacturers in the country have the ability to produce around 100 tonnes of the drug per month if needed – enough to treat some 70m people.

nytimes.com corroborated the news, based on a report by Reuters April 6, 2020, with the title : India Lifts Restrictions on 24 Drug Exports Amid Coronavirus

It said : Trump said late on Monday in Washington that India could face retaliation for its decision to ban exports of hydroxychloroquine.

During the telephone call on Saturday, Trump urged Modi to release supplies of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which is being tested as a possible treatment for patients with COVID-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus.

India, the world’s main supplier of generic drugs, has lifted restrictions on the export of 24 pharmaceutical ingredients and medicines made from them, the government said in a statement.

It was not clear what prompted India to lift the restrictions, but Indian government sources had said the bans had prompted intense pressure from the United States.

It had imposed the restrictions last month as the coronavirus outbreak disrupted global supply chains. Paracetamol, a common pain reliever, and its formulations were not included in the list of drugs freed up for export.

India had restricted the exports of 26 ingredients and medicines on March 3. Paracetamol and its formulations accounted for two items on the original list.

(for more: https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/04/06/world/asia/06reuters-health-coronavirus-india-drugs.html)

dailymail.co.uk ran the headline :

India lifts ban on exporting hydroxychloroquine after President Trump threatened ‘retaliation’ if the country failed to send potential coronavirus treatment to the US.

The tone and tenor of  how Trump, the bully, was more explicit in this report (08:51 BST, 7 April 2020):

India has lifted an export ban on two dozen drugs and their ingredients including potential coronavirus treatment hydroxychloroquine after Donald Trump threatened ‘retaliation’ if the country held up supplies.

Trump in a news conference Monday said that he would be surprised if Modi didn’t comply. ‘I don’t like that decision, I didn’t hear that that was his decision,’ he said.

‘I know that he stopped it for other countries. I spoke to him yesterday, we had a very good talk and we’ll see whether or not that’s his…

‘For many years, they’ve been taken advantage of the United States on trade. 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 you allowing our supply to come out. If he doesn’t allow it to come out. That would be OK. But of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn’t there be?’

Foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said Tuesday that India now has sufficient supplies for its needs, so export restrictions ‘have been largely lifted.’

According to Bloomberg, India – the world’s largest manufacturer of generic drugs – accounts for roughly 47 per cent of America’s supply of hydroxychloroquine.

The country has recommended that healthcare workers take the drug, which is typically used to treat malaria, as a preventative measure against coronavirus.

The drug paracetamol is a common painkiller which has been in short supply in countries affected by coronavirus after a warning was given about another common painkiller – ibuprofen – amid fears it could make symptoms worse.

(For more : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8195091/India-lifts-ban-exporting-hydroxychloroquine-Trump-threat.html)

However, on Monday, India allowed export of hydroxychloroquine on a “case to case” basis, in the face of mounting international pressure, Mint reported. Besides the US, a number of other countries also have approached India for the drug. Nearly half of the American supply of the drug comes from India. The Indian government also allowed export of paracetamol and some other drugs.

The Union Health Ministry on Tuesday asked the media not to speculate on what led India to lift the suspension of the export of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

The western agencies however left no room for speculation, as seen above.

The Indian government had on March 26 put on hold the export of hydroxychloroquine to ensure that enough stocks were available in the market.

Earlier, the Indian Council of Medical Research had authorised physicians to use the drug as a potential preventive measure for Covid-19 – only for asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in the treatment of suspected or confirmed patients of the disease, and household contacts looking after infected patients. The medical body, however, warned that the measure must not instill a “sense of false security” and urged all individuals to continue taking all preventive measures and practice social distancing to avoid getting infected.

PTI reported, Apr 7, 2020, 10:30 IST :

Notably, India’s decision to ban the exports of Hydroxychloroquine is driven by its desire to take stock of the domestic requirements and ensure that the country has enough in its kitty.

Reiterating that for many years, India has been taking advantage of the US on trade, Trump said that he would be surprised if New Delhi was to stop export of Hydroxychloroquine to the US.

“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?” Trump said.

His remarks came at a time when both countries are in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, a senior State Department official said that India has been a significant partner of the US in the pharmaceutical sector and it expects similar cooperation to continue between the economies.

“India has long been a significant partner of the United States in the pharmaceutical sector,” Alice G Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, told reporters during a press briefing.

It is not as if US is in a desperate situation, as PTI said :
The Trump administration has already created a national strategic stockpile of 29 million doses of the malaria drug, anticipating that its test results on more than 1,500 COVID-19 patients in New York is yielding positive results.

India obtained more than one million masks, thousands of ventilators, and PPE suits and other equipment from China in recent days, despite new cases of Covid-19 coming up in China, and despite brazen anti-China tirade in India.

Who is our real friend, US or China ?

US is our strategic partner and natural ally, it is said, both being democracies. Does India like to continue as a junior partner  to USA?

Is this democracy in international relations?


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One Comment

  1. India succumbs to US hegemony for the simple reason that it wants US as its ally in its own hegemonism in the South Asian region including Kashmir.