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Exports of all 16 drugs were banned by the Indian government last month following the spread of covid-19. (Photo: iStock)
Exports of all 16 drugs were banned by the Indian government last month following the spread of covid-19. (Photo: iStock)

Government lifts restrictions on exports of key drugs

  • India last month banned exports of 16 drugs, including hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol
  • President Trump had sought the lifting of the embargo placed on hydroxychloroquine exports to the US

India on Tuesday said it had placed two drugs namely hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), an anti-malarial drug considered suitable for the treatment of covid-19, and paracetamol, an anti-pyretic, under the licensed category for exports, while freeing up 14 other drugs completely.

Exports of all these drugs were previously banned by the Centre following the covid-19 outbreak. The number of infections in India has crossed 5,000, with 136 fatalities.

On 4 April, export of HCQ was banned through a notification, without exemptions on humanitarian or other grounds. India had also tightened control over the exports of 13 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), including paracetamol, certain vitamins and antibiotics, and formulations as the covid-19 pandemic in China was seen affecting their supply.

Tuesday’s announcement, however, opens the doors for exports of HCQ and other drugs to India’s close neighbours, and strategic partners such as the US. Following the spread of covid-19, around 36 countries have requested India for HCQ.

“With regard to paracetamol and HCQ, they will be kept in a licensed category and their demand position would be continuously monitored. However, the stock position could allow our companies to meet the export commitments that they had contracted," foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said.

“In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring 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."

India decided to lift the exports ban after “a comprehensive assessment" of possible requirements under different scenarios, Srivastava said. “After having confirmed the availability of medicines for all possible contingencies currently envisaged, these restrictions have been largely lifted."

This follows a telephone conversation between Donald Trump and Narendra Modi during the weekend, wherein the US President requested the Indian Prime Minister to lift the embargo on HCQ exports to the US. Nearly half of US’s drug supply comes from India.

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