American President Donald Trump is so fascinated by the healing capabilities of the Indian anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine that he has forgotten his bonhomie with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and gone to the extent of threatening retaliatory actions if India does not permit exports of the drug to America.
Hydroxychloroquine Has Shown Some Positive Results in Treating Covid-19
Hydroxychloroquine has been successfully used by some doctors in the treatment of coronavirus and has been termed as a game-changer by Trump in the fight against coronavirus.
Hydroxychloroquine is popularly known as an antiviral agent has displayed strong antiviral effects on the coronavirus infection and is currently being experimented by many countries as a possible treatment for SARS-CoV-2 that causes Covid-19. China found that chloroquine could slow down SARS-CoV-2 in vitro, and indicated apparent efficacy in treating COVID-19 in humans. A small trial in France also found hydroxychloroquine to be a promising potential treatment.
The findings have prompted Trump to advocate hydroxychloroquine as a game-changer in the fight against Covid-19. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and many others have also echoed Trump’s optimism and advocated its use.
The US drug regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), authorized “compassionate use” of hydroxychloroquine (or chloroquine) for severely ill patients in mid-March and recently ratified its emergency use. The drug is being prescribed to Covid-19 patients in New York City, the epicenter of the American outbreak. WHO has also added the drug to its large global solidarity trial to test a variety of potential treatments. But virologists and infectious disease experts term the excitement as premature.
Why India Banned Exports of Hydroxychloroquine
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has recommended HCQ for use as a preventive medication for Covid-19 high-risk groups. It has also prescribed the drug for persons involved in the care of “suspected or confirmed cases of the coronavirus, healthcare workers involved in the treatment of COVID-19,” and for asymptomatic household contacts of laboratory-confirmed patients. Reportedly, each COVID-19 patient needs 14 tablet courses. India needs around 24 million tablets per year for the treatment of lupus, malaria, and rheumatoid arthritis.
India manufactures 70% of the world’s supply of and exports elsewhere. Ipca Laboratories, an international pharmaceutical company based in Mumbai, India is the top manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine globally.
The order was given because of the growing number of positive cases of Covid-19 with the current tally standing at 5,194 positive and more than 149 deaths, according to the latest data released by India’s Ministry of Health.
Why is the US Divided on Hydroxychloroquine?
Trump has termed hydroxychloroquine as a potential “game-changer”, whereas experts of his coronavirus task force and other virologists and infectious disease experts say the excitement as premature. The experts have warned against over-hyping the drug that is yet to pass the safe remedy test, particularly for patients with cardiac issues. An article in The Lancet medical journal, warned of dangerous side effects if the dose of hydroxychloroquine is not carefully administered. After reports of adverse side effects, some hospitals in Sweden stopped prescribing hydroxychloroquine to coronavirus patients, according to Swedish news media. However, doctors in New York and elsewhere have been administering it in desperation, even without conclusive scientific studies.
Trump’s brazenness in pressing the use of hydroxychloroquine over the advice of advisers, like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, has raised questions about his motives. According to the New York Times, if hydroxychloroquine becomes an accepted treatment, numerous pharmaceutical companies and their shareholders and senior executives with proximity to the President stand to gain. Trump also has a financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker, which makes Plaquenil, the brand name for hydroxychloroquine. Trump has three family trusts, each had investments as of last year in a mutual fund whose largest holding was Sanofi, according to the New York Times.
The New York Times quoted Dr. Joshua Rosenberg, the medical director at Brooklyn Hospital Center, as “I understand why the president is pushing it. The president of the United States has to project hope when there is a situation without hope. Even if there isn’t a lot of science behind it, at this point, hydroxychloroquine is the best, most available option for use.”
According to others in the current political scenario, Trump needs a miracle to get reelected. If hydroxychloroquine turns out to be a panacea, he can say, “I did it, America. I saved all your lives” and claim that he defeated Covid-19 in order to sweep the elections.
India’s Reaction to Trump’s Comments
The US President’s comments haven’t gone down well with many in India, with critics pointing out that Trump’s rude behavior was uncalled for when Modi had already agreed to help. After Trump’s remarks, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that India would supply essential drugs to nations affected by Covid-19. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said “Given the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, India would license hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol in appropriate quantities to all our neighboring countries who are dependent on our capabilities. We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic.”
Because of the growing demand for hydroxychloroquine, Indian pharmaceutical companies are ramping up monthly production of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine by four hundred percent to 40 metric tons by the end of April and five to six hundred percent to over 70 metric tons by May.