New Delhi April 10, 2020: While the government’s partial relaxation of the export ban on hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) has renewed concerns of a possible shortage of the drug in the domestic market, industry executives and healthcare experts Moneycontrol spoke to said India has enough capacities to meet the domestic and global demand.
India earns about $40-$50 million by the export of HCQ medicine annually. The decades-old drug, which costs about Rs 5-6 per 200 mg pill, is used to treat malaria, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Malaria is influenced by seasonal factors.
“During normal times India consumes about 3 million tablets and exports around 30 million tablets,” said Sudarshan Jain, Secretary-General of Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) that represents large domestic drug companies.
The drug came into the spotlight following an anecdotal study by French researchers on COVID-19 patients. The study reported HCQ to be effective in killing SARS-COV-2. The drug found a major backer in US President Donald Trump, who began pushing it aggressively, even calling it ‘miracle cure’.
There are now 1.6 million COVID-19 cases globally; India reported about 6,725 cases.
Despite limited clinical evidence, HCQ is now used by many countries for treating COVID-19 patients and also as prophylactic medication to prevent the spread of infection, especially in high-risk categories like healthcare workers and people who are tending to confirmed cases of COVID-19. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) too had recommended the drug but with a doctor’s prescription.
The US government announced that it stockpiled 29 million doses of the drug. Similarly, India ordered 100 million HCQ tablets. And other countries and traders also started stocking up on the medication, doubling the price of its active pharmaceutical ingredient (API). API prices, which ranged between Rs 75,000 and Rs 80,000 per kg, are now trading at Rs 1,50,000 and above.
Fearing shortages and price escalation in the domestic market the government imposed a blanket ban on the export of HCQs on April 4. This caused an uproar, with countries expressing concern over the ban. Trump threatened “retaliation” if India refused to supply these essential medicines.
Three days later, the government allowed certain exceptions to the ban like allowing exports to neighbouring countries and nations that badly need the medicines in the wake of COVID-19 crisis. To be sure HCQ will continue to be a prohibited item. The government is yet to issue any fresh notification amending the export ban notification issued on April 4.
The government said HCQ will be kept in a licensed category and its demand position would be continuously monitored.