News and Commentary

India Bans Exports Of Malaria Drug As Demand Skyrockets
Medical staff shows on February 26, 2020 at the IHU Mediterranee Infection Institute in Marseille, a packet of Plaqueril, tablets containing hydroxychloroquine, drug that has shown signs of effectiveness against coronavirus. - The Mediterranee infection Institute in Marseille based in La Timone Hospital is at the forefront of the prevention against coronavirus in France.
GERARD JULIEN/AFP via Getty Images

India has reportedly banned the exportation of a malaria drug that is being touted as a potential treatment for the coronavirus as scientists and medical professionals continue to research the drug’s efficacy in treating the disease.

“Exports of hydroxychloroquine will be limited to fulfilling fully paid existing contracts, while certain shipments on humanitarian grounds may also be allowed on a case-by-case basis, according to a statement issued Wednesday by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade,” Bloomberg News reported. “The ban also does not apply to factories in its special economic zones.”

Kunal Dhamesha, analyst at SBI Capital Markets, told Bloomberg News that India likely made the move “to ensure its local needs are met first.”

“China, Europe and South Korea recommend it as one of several treatments for Covid-19 patients, while India itself advocates health-care workers take the drug regularly as a preventive measure,” Bloomberg News added. “But there is no conclusive scientific evidence that hydroxychloroquine can treat the infection from the novel pathogen. … Some top scientists, including White House coronavirus task force member Anthony Fauci, have called reports that hydroxychloroquine might work anecdotal, and said they need further study before the pill’s use is encouraged.”

The potential use of hydroxychloroquine, along with the antibiotic azithromycin, as a treatment gained traction internationally in part because of a study in Franc of around 40 hospitalized patients. “In that study, the drug appeared to help clear the virus from their bodies, based on samples taken from nasal swabs,” Bloomberg News  notes.

Experts point to the small sample size and limits of the study as reasons it cannot be considered definitive, but an increasing number of officials and political leaders have pushed for fast-tracked trials. The medication gained a significant amount of international attention this week after President Donald Trump tweeted about the drug.

“HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine. The FDA has moved mountains – Thank You! Hopefully they will BOTH (H works better with A, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents) be put in use IMMEDIATELY,” Trump tweeted. “PEOPLE ARE DYING, MOVE FAST, and GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”

A couple in Arizona allegedly took Trump’s touting of the drug as signal that it would be okay to consume fish tank cleaner containing chloroquine phosphate as a preventive measure. The man died in the hospital and the woman was hospitalized in critical care.

Left-wing publications and journalists used the story to attack the administration by falsely suggesting that Trump was somehow responsible for the couple’s decision to consume fish tank cleaner. The president never told anyone to take any medication, let alone fish tank cleaner.

Nevada Democrat Governor Steve Sisolak responded to the news by banning the use of the anti-malaria drug for people that test positive for the coronavirus.

New York Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo announced this week that his state would begin testing the drug and plasma therapy as possible treatments for the coronavirus.

Bloomberg News noted that pharmaceutical companies are now racing to produce the drug, which it described as inexpensive. One of those companies is Indian company Cadila Healthcare Ltd., which is “the world’s largest maker of the drug” and now largely banned from exporting it, though it is working to get approval to do so.