India has banned the export of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug that some believe to be effective in treating coronavirus.
The guidance for Indian companies to halt, without delay, the export of the medicine and its components came from the Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry late Tuesday. The export ban appears to be a response to both a national and a global spike in demand for the drugs, after anecdotal evidence suggested they might be effective at fighting Covid-19, though the evidence is far from conclusive.
“The export of Hydroxychloroquine and formulations made from Hydroxychloroquine… is prohibited with immediate effect,” the ministry said.
While the export of the drug has been halted with no end date in sight, deals that were already in progress when the notice was issued will be allowed to proceed.
Another exception is being made for humanitarian shipments that are, however, subject to approval by the Indian External Affairs Ministry and will be greenlit on a case-by-case basis.
The drugs in question, hydroxychloroquine as well as chloroquine, have long proven their effectiveness in treating malaria and other conditions.
However, both have been back in the news after Trump cited a novel survey indicating they can be effective in alleviating Covid-19 symptoms. While clinical trials of the drugs in the US have just started, Trump has drawn a huge backlash for touting “off-label” use of the medication as a possible breakthrough in treating the coronavirus.
India, which has so far managed to contain the outbreak with “only” 519 confirmed cases as opposed to a staggering 55,225 in the US, has rallied behind the drug. The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) recommended prescribing it as preventive medication to those who come into contact with coronavirus patients.
“Hydroxy-chloroquine is found to be effective against coronavirus in laboratory studies and in-vivo studies,” the council, which leads the national Covid-19 task force, stated in its recent advisory, indicating that the country’s healthcare system may be bracing for an impending spike in cases.
In order to stop the spread of the virus, India is currently on a 21-day nationwide lockdown following an order from its leader Narendra Modi.