Stuck in a policy haze, government takes back export ban on COVID-19 related drug HCQ

07 April 2020
India is one of the biggest manufacturers of Hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ. While research is still divided on its efficacy against COVID-19, the Indian Council of Medical Research has recommended it’s use as a preventive measure for frontline health-workers and caregivers combating the pandemic.
John Locher / AP Photo
India is one of the biggest manufacturers of Hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ. While research is still divided on its efficacy against COVID-19, the Indian Council of Medical Research has recommended it’s use as a preventive measure for frontline health-workers and caregivers combating the pandemic.
John Locher / AP Photo

Early today morning, the Indian government rescinded a blanket ban imposed on the export of hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ, a 75-year-old drug used for the treatment of malaria and auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. The decision to reverse the ban was taken barely 48 hours after it was put in place. On 4 April, the Director General of Foreign Trade, an office that comes under the ministry of commerce and deals with matters related to exports and imports, released a notification that stated, “The export of hydroxychloroquine and formulations made from hydroxychloroquine, therefore, shall remain prohibited, without any exception.”

Notably, the blanket ban was itself an amendment of another ban imposed on 25 March, when the government first banned HCQ exports, with certain exceptions. This was following a guideline released by the Indian Council of Medical Research on 22 March, which recommended the use of HCQ for treating healthcare workers handling suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases, as a prophylactic.

The impositions and recalls are in line with the knee-jerk decisions that have come to exemplify the administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether considered individually or in entirety, each of these decisions suggests a lack of consultation with the industry and health experts. The government’s decision to revoke the ban also comes right after the president of the United States of America, Donald Trump, called the prime minister Narendra Modi on Sunday  and followed the conversation up with threats of possible retaliation if India did not lift its ban.

Vidya Krishnan is a global health reporter who works and lives in India. Her first book, Phantom Plague: How Tuberculosis Shaped History, was published in February 2022 by PublicAffairs.

Keywords: COVID-19 Hydroxychloroquine ministry of external affairs Donald Trump
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