Why Indian Medicines are considered as “Sanjeevni Booti” for the World during Current Crisis?

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Context: The Indian government has ended its earlier ban on exporting Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ).India would license paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all the neighboring countries which are dependent on India’s capabilities.

Prelims: Current events of national and international importance.
Mains: GS II And GS III-

  • Issues relating to the development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development, and employment. Inclusive growth and issues arising from it.
India in the Pharma sector
  • India enjoys an important position in the global pharmaceuticals sector, as India is the largest provider of generic drugs globally.
  • The Indian pharmaceutical industry meets over 50% of global demand for various vaccines, 40% of generic demand in the U.S. and 25% of all medicine in the U.K.
  • Presently, over 80% of the antiretroviral drugs used globally to combat AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) are supplied by Indian pharmaceutical firms.
  • The Indian pharmaceutical market is the world’s third-largest in terms of volume and thirteenth-largest in terms of value. It has established itself as a global manufacturing and research hub.
The Context in the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • US President Donald Trump has said he has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to relax India’s ban on hydroxychloroquine tablets so that the drug can be used to treat America’s COVID-19 patients.
  • A day earlier, India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade had prohibited export of the anti-malarial drug, which the US has described as a game-changer in the battle against the novel coronavirus.
  • The US president’s request is reportedly on the table of the high-level Group of Ministers (GoM) that reviews, monitors and evaluates the country’s COVID-19 response activities.
  • Brazil has joined the US in urging India to lift the ban on hydroxychloroquine — India is one of the global leaders in the production of the drug.
  • The GoM headed by Union Minister of Defence must take into account the interests of all stakeholders in the country before arriving at a decision on relaxing the export ban.

Why Hydroxychloroquine was completely banned?
  • India imports Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) from China for the manufacture of drugs at cheaper costs.
  • The supply of APIs got affected due to the COVID-19 outbreak in China.
  • To ensure that India doesn’t fall short of supply for its own citizens, the drug was banned from exporting.
  • The export of hydroxychloroquine and formulations made from hydroxychloroquine is not even allowed from Special Economic Zones/ Export -Oriented Units (SEZs/EOUs) or against Advance Authorisation (AA) or against full advance payment.
  • SEZs are treated as a foreign territory in terms of customs laws. Normally, export ban or restrictions imposed by the government does not apply to these zones as well as EOUs, which are specially meant to promote outbound shipments from the country.
  • Under the Advance Authorisation (AA) scheme, firms are allowed to import raw material at zero duty but with the condition of export obligation within a certified time frame.
  • India has banned exports of a host of medical devices, including sanitizer, all types of ventilators and surgical masks.
  • The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine for treating healthcare workers handling suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases and also the asymptomatic household contacts (showing no symptoms) of the lab-confirmed cases. It needs to be noted that the drug is yet to be proven as a cure for the novel coronavirus.
  • All this has been done to deal with the number of rising cases in the country.
USA’s Request
  • India is considering the request by the USA to release the ordered amount of hydroxychloroquine drugs.
  • USA has been using the drug along with a combination of other drugs to treat COVID-19 patients. It is being said that the drug is yielding positive results.
  • This can be viewed as an opportunity for India’s pharmaceutical industry to gain access to the USA markets, but a call should be taken only after considering domestic requirements.
  • This may provide India and the US with an opportunity to sort out issues related to India’s capping of prices of drugs and medical equipment like stents that have figured prominently in trade disputes between the two countries.
  • This can also be seen as India, despite a complete ban on exports, may give priority to the USA's request. This highlights the importance of the India-US relationship.
  • Now The Indian government has ended its earlier ban on exporting Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ).


Hydroxy-chloroquine against COVID-19
  • The drug shows antiviral activity in vitro against coronaviruses, and specifically, SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19].
  • Further, the study suggests that prophylaxis (treatment given to prevent disease) with hydroxy-chloroquine at approved doses could prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and may help to improve viral shedding.
  • Clinical trials are underway in China to know whether the drug can be used for treatment.
About Hydroxy-chloroquine 
  • Hydroxy-chloroquine is an oral drug used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Autoimmune diseases are in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells.
  • The popular anti-parasitic medication has been available since the 1940s. It’s been used to treat malaria.
  • HCQ is a derivative of chloroquine and has fewer side-effects.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting many joints, including those in the hands and feet.
  • Chloroquine works by increasing the levels of haem or heme, a substance toxic to the malarial parasite in the blood. This kills the parasite and stops the infection from spreading.
ICMR Recommends Use of Hydroxy-Chloroquine
  • Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination, and promotion of biomedical research.
  • Its mandate is to conduct, coordinate and implement medical research for the benefit of the Society, translating medical innovations into products/processes and introducing them into the public health system.
  • The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommends the use of hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic for asymptomatic healthcare workers and contacts of people who have been infected by the virus.
  • The ICMR’s decision on the wider use of the drug will, reportedly, depend on further research.
Use of Hydroxy-Chloroquine yielded better results
  • At the same time, research in other parts of the world has sparked interest in a more expansive use of anti-malarial medicine.
  • A study by Chinese researchers, for instance, showed that the drug speeded up the recovery of COVID-19 patients who had suffered pneumonia.
  • Experiments on the drug have also yielded promising results in France. Some experts have called for more tests before hydroxychloroquine is held up as a cure for COVID-19.
  • But some of the early naysayers of the drug, including the US Food and Drug Administration, have now come around to recommending its use in emergency situations.
  • Hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 palliative, by all accounts, seems to be a work in progress.
  • However, in a world embroiled in a grim struggle against COVID-19, reports of the early success of the drug have generated hope especially in the US, the country hit hardest by the pandemic.
  • In such a situation, it is critical that India’s decision on the US request be an informed and considered one.
  • India has one of the lowest manufacturing costs in the world – lower than that of the U.S. and almost half of the cost in Europe.
  • As the country plans to intensify the battle against the novel coronavirus in hotspots, the GoM’s decision must be based on consultations with a wide range of experts — scientists, public health and foreign policy experts and representatives of the pharma industry.
  • India should look up to and invest in biotechnology. India’s biotechnology industry, comprising biopharmaceuticals, bio-services, bio-agriculture, bio-industry, and bioinformatics is expected to grow at an average rate of around 30% a year and reach $100 billion by 2025.
  • To ensure the health security of Indian people, the revival of R&D and public sector API manufacturers is necessary. For example, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) should be promoted to invest in R&D.

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