NEW DELHI :
India woke up on Thursday to public expressions of thanks from the presidents of the US and Brazil for quick shipments of an anti-malaria drug, which is being tested as a possible treatment for covid-19, as infections from the novel coronavirus inched towards the 1.5-million mark worldwide and the death toll neared 90,000.
The messages from presidents Donald Trump of the US and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil came as New Delhi prepared to ship consignments of the drug to some other countries badly hit by the pandemic like Britain, Spain, the UK and Germany.
New Delhi is also planning to dispatch medicines to some of its immediate neighbours, and others, such as Mauritius, Seychelles and Bahrain, in India’s extended neighbourhood, a person familiar with the developments said.
“India’s supplies of medicines, especially #HCQ (hydroxychloroquine) and #paracetamol to several countries, including USA, Israel, Gulf, neighbours, etc confirm our role as first provider and help in global fight against #COVID19," Sanjay Bhattacharyya, secretary in India’s foreign ministry said in a Twitter post on Thursday.
Analysts said India’s so-called “medical diplomacy" by first lifting an exports ban on hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ, in response to requests from several nations will burnish its credentials as “a responsible citizen of the world" at a time when China is facing flak over its alleged lack of transparency over the covid-19 outbreak. The disease first surfaced in China in December. The UN Security Council is to meet later Thursday for a special briefing on the pandemic.
“Extraordinary times require even closer cooperation between friends. Thank you India and the Indian people for the decision on HCQ. Will not be forgotten! Thank you Prime Minister @NarendraModi for your strong leadership in helping not just India, but humanity, in this fight!" Trump said in a Twitter post late Wednesday.
Bolsonaro, on his part, thanked India for the “timely assistance" in an address to the nation made late Wednesday.
“As a result of my direct conversation with the Prime Minister of India, we will receive, until Saturday, raw material to continue producing hydroxychloroquine, so that we can treat covid-19 patients, as well as malaria, lupus and arthritis," Bolsonaro said.
“I thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian people for this very timely assistance to the Brazilian people," he added.
Both leaders had telephonic talks with Modi on Saturday.
Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh said India’s quick response to Trump’s request of releasing the HCQ would score points in its favour given that US drug companies have been critical of India producing low-cost generic drugs in the past and New Delhi capping costs of critical medicines and equipment manufactured by the multinational firms in the past.
Mansingh noted that India had previously fallen foul of the large pharmaceutical companies for alleged intellectual property rights (IPR) violations as they produced generic drugs to treat HIV-AIDS.