Coronavirus and “The World’s Pharmacy”

How Indian pharmaceutical companies are supplying the U.S. with hydroxychloroquine after Western pharma has been trying to undermine Indian pharma for years.

Michaela Stone Cross

April 13, 2020

Coronavirus and “The World’s Pharmacy”
Pills (Volodymyr Hryshchenko)

It is not every day that the United States president asks another country for medical supplies. 

But on Saturday, April 4, 2020, President Donald Trump called India Prime Minister Narendra Modi to request that India lift a ban on the export of antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had declared it a potential treatment for COVID-19 and usage in the U.S. — the global epicenter of the coronavirus with over 560,000 confirmed cases — has spiked as panicked Americans scramble for a miracle cure. India, which produces 70% of the world’s supply, had banned exports of the drug except on “humanitarian grounds.” 

“There may be retaliation,” Trump said at the White House press conference Monday when asked what would happen if Modi refused to export. “Why wouldn’t there be?”

Modi acceded to Trump’s request of 29 million doses, with government officials claiming that India can produce enough tablets to meet the needs of not only its 1.3 billion citizens, but also those of America, Brazil, and neighbors Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. India purportedly has the production capacity for 200 million tablets a year, which could be scaled up by 50% in about two to three months. Normal domestic HCQ consumption in India is 24 million tablets a year. India has historically exported the drug to African nations with malaria. But critics worry that Modi has succumbed to American pressure at the expense of his fellow Indians — if countries all over the world end up importing HCQ for uses beyond malaria treatment (each COVID-19 patient reportedly needs a 14-tablet course), the demand could far outpace 300 million tablets.