Even as scientists and epidemiologists are racing to find a clinically tested and proven cure for Covid-19, the anecdotal positive outcome in combating the contagion in the US of some common drugs produced largely in India has presented the Indian pharmaceutical sector with a huge opportunity to showcase its potential. The stance of the Indian government in this context gives the sector leeway to enhance production — but without compromising on quality. On the ‘request’ of Donald Trump — who is struggling to contain the coronavirus that has in its grip over four lakh people, claiming more than 12,000 lives in the US — India has shipped 29 million doses of HCQ (hydroxychloroquine) to the beleaguered country.
For this humanitarian act and solidarity with the global community in these trying times, India lifted the ban it had imposed last month on the export of 14 drugs essential for the protocol of treating Covid-19, including HCQ and paracetamol. It has plans to similarly help some other badly impacted and needy nations. Brazil and Sweden have also requested for the ‘wonder’ drug. Allaying fears of shortage at home, the government says this temporary restriction had enabled it to stockpile sufficient quantities of medicines required for domestic consumption and for all possible contingencies currently envisaged. Patients of auto-immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, who normally take HCQ, must also be taken into consideration. Now, as Ipca, Cadila Healthcare and other pharmaceutical firms ramp up their production capacities in keeping with the huge spike in demand, it would be a test for them to keep the supplies flowing. The order is tall, but manageable: India ranks third worldwide in pharmaceutical production by volume, accounting largely for low-price drugs.
Meanwhile, besides the pills, the challenge before the pharma industry in grappling with the virus from spreading at home is multi-pronged. There are not enough PPE kits for healthcare staff and other handlers of patients. Many more rapid test kits to speed up Covid-19 screening are urgently needed. A long way before we go on the mend.