Flip-flop over ban on drug export

Kashmir Times. Dated: 4/9/2020 4:26:40 PM

The row over hydroxychroloquine exposes India’s poor planning on stock-piling and its inability to stand up to a bully

Whether the decision to revoke the blanket ban on export of hydroxychroloquine, an anti-malarial drug, that some experts conjecture could be a possible antidote to Covid-19, three days after it was imposed was a direct result of the US president Donald Trump threatening India of retaliation or not, it exposes the knee-jerk response to the fight against coronavirus. The export of the drug was first partially banned on March 25, the ban order amended to bring into effect a complete ban and now this order has been fully withdrawn. This flip-flop necessitates an explanation from the government. The statement of the Ministry of External Affairs official spokesperson, which states, “Our first obligation is to ensure that there are adequate stocks of medicines for the requirement of our own people”, that the restrictions were imposed temporarily to assess the situation and that “after having confirmed the availability of medicines for all possible contingencies currently envisaged, these restrictions have been largely lifted,” is insufficient. The lifting of the ban came on the day that India saw a major spike in the number of Covid-19 positive cases as the country beefed up its tests to 12,000 a day. Covid-19 cases in India have risen to 5,360, and 164 people have died and more than 400 cured. In addition, the guideline released by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on March 22, which recommended the use of this drug for treating healthcare workers handling suspected or confirmed Covid-19 cases, as a precautionary measure. Needless to point out that India has just about begun to scale up its testing capacity and begun to procure bulk testing kits and expectations are that the real graph of the rise of positive cases will begin to blow-up in the next few days. The nature of the assessment that the MEA spokesperson talked about is least convincing and raises questions about the country’s preparedness.
Already, India over-delayed its stock-piling of drugs, testing kits and protective gears, causing acute shortages. The exports were not stopped until third week of March was over and the result is that many of the doctors and health workers are at high vulnerability because they come into direct contact with the Covid-19 positive patients and do not have the required Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to safeguard their own lives. Glaring is the report last week of Indian cargo shipments to Serbia carrying PPE at a time when India is also struggling to treat coronavirus patients due to the shortage of protective gear for health workers. The coronavirus pandemic necessitates a global approach and certainly India should do its best to contribute to the world in whichever way it can, but not by ignoring to set its own house in order. At the centre of the present row is a drug that is being touted as a ‘miracle’ by some and leading to a mad race, even though experts have warned that its benefits have not been conclusively proven yet and trials are still on. There have been no complete clinical trials which are important to show how the drug behaves in actual patients. But despite that, the correct course of action should have been to first cater to the local demand and then go in for exports on need basis. That the Indian government’s decision to revoke the hydroxychroloquine ban came within hours of Trump threatening to retaliate reveals that the planning is limp and the criteria for helping others is less based on the need but on the ability of a hegemon to arm-twist the country into surrender.



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