Covid-19: India mulls Trumps request to lift ban on hydroxychloroquine export

According to people familiar with the development in New Delhi, the request is under consideration with India expected to take a call after assessing its own domestic requirement of the drug.

Trump late Saturday had said he urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to supply hydroxychloroquine tablets to his country, which now has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world.

Hydroxychloroquine tablets are recognised as prophylactic for those on the frontline of the fight against covid-19–doctors, nurses, paramedics and first responders–and can be used to treat patients infected with the deadly virus.

Analysts say that the request from the US could be seen as an opportunity in multiple ways. It signifies a recognition of India’s contribution and potential in the pharmaceutical sector and will provide a possible opening for India and the US to negotiate their differences to cap prices of drugs and medical devices.

At his White House coronavirus task force briefing late Saturday, Trump said he had reached out to India for supply of hydroxychloroquine. The US recorded the highest number of deaths on the same day, more than 1,300, due to covid-19.

“After the call today (Saturday) with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India is giving serious consideration to releasing the hold it put on a US order for hydroxychloroquine,” Trump was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

“India makes a lot of it. They need a lot too for their billion-plus people. The hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug, will be released through the Strategic National Stockpile for treatment,” he said.

“I said I would appreciate it if they would release the amounts that we ordered,” he added.

In his comments, Trump also said he too may take hydroxychloroquine, though on doctors’ orders.

The president also warned that the next two weeks were going to be “very, very deadly.” “Unfortunately, but we are going to make it so that we lose as few lives as possible and I think we are going to be successful,” he added.

In a Twitter post on Saturday following his conversation with Trump, Modi had said,“Had an extensive telephone conversation with President @realDonaldTrump. We had a good discussion, and agreed to deploy the full strength of the India-US partnership to fight COVID-19″.

India’s foreign ministry readout on Saturday on the conversation made no mention of Trump’s request.

“Stressing on the special relationship between the two countries, the Prime Minister reiterated India’s solidarity with the US in overcoming this global crisis together. The two leaders agreed to deploy the full strength of the India–US partnership to resolutely and effectively combat COVID-19,” the Indian statement had said.

Earlier last week, the Indian foreign ministry had said US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo had discussions with Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar on the phone about the importance of continued close cooperation between the two nations to combat the virus by strengthening global pharmaceutical supply chains.

India had announced a ban on the export of hydroxychloroquine and formulations made from hydroxychloroquine on 26 March though the Indian commerce ministry had said exports would be allowed from special economic zones (SEZs) and to fulfil prior obligations or for humanitarian efforts by the government.

Last month India had also banned exports of sanitizers and extended a ban on ventilators to artificial respiratory apparatus, oxygen therapy apparatus and any other breathing appliance to ensure the availability of these critical healthcare items.

On Saturday, India announced a ban on the export of diagnostic kits and laboratory reagents as the number of covid-19 cases in the country soared past the 3,000 mark, with death toll nearing 80.

As of Sunday, there were more than 312,000 covid-19 cases in the US, with 8,503 deaths, according to the US-based Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. The worst affected was New York with over 2,600 deaths.

Former Indian ambassador to the US Lalit Mansingh said given the importance of the request–that had come directly from Trump–India should look at providing some drugs to the US.

“It is a recognition of the potential of the Indian pharmaceutical sector. The US’ need for the drug is more than ours given the alarming numbers of those infected. It is more than our need at present though India has much larger number of people and our graph is also going up…I think the prime minister will respond to President Trump’s request,” Mansingh said.

Looking ahead, Mansingh said this may provide India and the US with an opportunity to sort out issues related to India’s capping of prices of drugs and medical equipment like stents that have figured prominently in trade disputes between the two countries.

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