Story at a glance
- Nearly half of the U.S. supply of hydroxychloroquine came from India last year, Bloomberg Intelligence has found.
- Now, the country has prohibited all exports of the drug and its formulation, threatening American supply.
- Research into the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19 has shown mixed results.
After President Donald Trump introduced hydroxychloroquine, or chloroquine for short, as a possible treatment for the coronavirus, the drug commonly used to prevent and treat malaria and lupus has flown off the shelves around the world. And now, there’s less to restock them with.
Bloomberg Intelligence reports 47 percent of the U.S. supply of hydroxychloroquine came from India last year, including makers Zydus and Dr. Reddy's Laboratories. Now, India has banned the export of the drug and its formulations to ensure it has enough supply for its domestic use.
After first restricting exports of hydroxychloroquine on March 3, India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade issued an amendment removing the allowed export of the drug in certain conditions on April 4.
President Trump said at a press conference on April 4 that India was giving serious consideration to his request for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release shipments the U.S. has already ordered. Meanwhile, the president said the U.S. had secured 29 million chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine pills for its medical stockpile.
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While the FDA has authorized emergency use of the drug for certain hospitalized patients, research into the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19 has shown mixed results.
Studies conducted in France and China that suggest the drug can be used to treat coronavirus patients have not been peer reviewed and consist of sample sizes of just 30 to 36 patients. At the same time, a new preprint published in a French medical journal claims there is no evidence of rapid antiviral clearance or clinic benefit with the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in patients with severe COVID-19 infection.
These findings have not yet been reviewed by other experts in the field for quality and accuracy, which means there could be significant flaws not yet identified in the research. An unpublished paper from scientists in India erroneously reported a link between COVID–19 and HIV and has since been withdrawn. Harvard epidemiology Marc Lipsitch and Bill Hanage advise journalists and health officials in an essay to use caution when citing these findings.
Chloroquine is also commonly used to treat discoid or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis in patients whose symptoms have not improved with other treatments. Those patients are reporting shortages, which are likely to be exacerbated by the new export ban.
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