BENGALURU: Amid growing pressure from countries like the US, India on Tuesday decided to relax the ban on the export of the antimalarial drug — hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) — now being seen as a game-changer in the fight against COVID-19. The Ministry of External Affairs said that the government would lift the export ban on the drug for its neighbours and the most impacted countries on a case-by-case basis and only after it fulfils its domestic need for the HCQ. India is the largest manufacturer of HCQ in the world.
Five laboratories in the country -- IPCA, Zydus, Microlabs, Cipla and Wallace — manufacture this drug, said Immunologist Dr Chandrashekhar. However, India gets the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) that is used to manufacture HCQ from China. And pharma companies want the government to expedite the import of API, which was hit because China was dealing with its own health crisis. “In Karnataka, the government has granted licence to two laboratories – Embiotic Laboratories in Kumbalgodu on Mysuru Road and Karnataka Antibiotics and Pharmaceuticals Limited (KAPL) in Peenya – to manufacture hydroxychloroquine,” a top official said.
“They are yet to begin the manufacturing process because of the non-availability of the API,” he said. The government is seized of the matter and the import of API is being fast-tracked now, the official said. “Hydroxychloroquine is being regulated to be used by healthcare professionals for COVID-19 in government hospitals,” he said. HCQ is no longer freely available at all chemists and pharmacies. However, it is still available with some of them and can be bought on a prescription signed by a registered medical practitioner, he added.
The good news is that API along with some select medical imports is now being flown into the country to handle the deadly virus and its spread. “Earlier there were substantial imports from across the world. Now it is only medical cargo marked under COV19ASYKITS (for COVID19 Assembly Kits) that is being received by the Customs officials at the Kempegowda International Airport.
There are assembly kits, laboratory reagents, enzymes, medical accessories and equipment, parts of MRI, special life saving drugs and child support supplements,” said an official source. “ The number of freighters carrying medical cargo has increased in the last one week,” he added.
HCQ is first line of treatment for rheumatoid athritis
NON-availability of HCQ in chemist stores has hit rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients very hard. “It is a standard first line of treatment for RA patients. It is also affordable. There are other drugs, but they are more expensive and have more side effects,” said Dr Naresh Shetty, Head of the Department of Orthopaedics, MS Ramaiah Memorial Hospital. Immunologist and rheumotologist Dr Chandrashekhar S of ChanRe Rheumotology and Immunology Center and Research said HCQ is the backbone of RA treatment.