India will allow some exports of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday, after US President Donald Trump urged New Delhi to release supplies of the drug seen as a possible treatment for Covid-19.
The Indian government had earlier put a hold on exports of hydroxychloroquine as well as on the pain reliever, paracetamol, saying it had to meet its internal demand.
But Trump spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the weekend seeking supplies and later hinted that India may face retaliation.
“It has been decided that India would license paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities,” said Indian foreign ministry spokesman, Anurag Srivastava.
“We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic,” he said.
Speaking during a daily briefing at the White House, Trump said: "I don't like that decision [to not export the drug]. I didn't hear that was his [Modi's] decision."
"I spoke to him [...] we had a very good talk. India does very well with the United States, for many years they have been taking advantage of the US on trade. So I would be surprised if that were his decision," Trump said.
"If he [Modi] doesn't allow the supply to come out, that would be okay, but of course there may be retaliation, why wouldn't there be?"
White House pushes unproven drug for virus, but doctors wary
Trump and his administration have kept up their out-sized promotion of the anti-malaria drug not yet officially approved for fighting the new coronavirus, even though scientists say more testing is needed before it’s proven safe and effective against Covid-19.
Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro championed hydroxychloroquine in television interviews a day after the president publicly put his faith in the medication to lessen the toll of the coronavirus pandemic.
“What do I know, I’m not a doctor,” Trump said on Sunday. “But I have common sense.”
In promoting the drug’s possibilities, the president has often stated, ”What have you got to lose?”
Trump held out promise for the drug as he grasps for ways to sound hopeful in the face of a mounting death toll and with the worst weeks yet to come for the US.
The virus has killed more than 10,000 in the US, and measures meant to contain its spread have taken a painful economic toll and all but frozen life in large swaths of the country.
But medical officials warn that it’s dangerous to be hawking unproven remedies, and even Trump’s own experts have cautioned against it.
The American Medical Association’s president, Dr Patrice Harris, said she personally would not prescribe the drug for a coronavirus patient, saying the risks of severe side effects were “great and too significant to downplay” without large studies showing the drug is safe and effective for such use.
Harris pointed to the drug’s high risk of causing heart rhythm problems.
“People have their health to lose,” she said. “Your heart could stop.”