COVID-19: Govt refuses to divulge hydroxychloroquine stocks, yet again

Govt says private labs roped in for better geographic coverage, data suggests otherwise

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Wednesday 08 April 2020

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) again refused to divulge the specific stockpile of the hydoxychloroquine (HCQ) drug in India on April 8, 2020.

Joint secretary Lav Agarwal, has reiterated in the last three days that there is sufficient availability of the drug.

“Let me assure you the whole situation is being monitored at the highest level,” Agarwal said in reply to a query from Down To Earth (DTE) regarding the availability of HCQ.

In terms of the requirement of the country, linking it with the fact that how much is the production as well as API (active pharmaceutical ingredients) availability in the country, it is ensured that not only today there will not be any lack of HCQ as and when required. Let me reiterate that HCQ is only for a particular set of people. HCQ will be sufficiently available in the days to come, whenever it would be required, Agarwal said

Hence, secrecy still shrouds the availability of the drug that has been recommended earlier for healthcare workers and now for patients. 

HCQ (in dosage of 400 mg twice a day on first day and 200 mg twice a day for 4 days), in combination with azithtromycin, “may be considered on and off” for patients with severe disease and requiring intensive care unit management, according to the revised set of guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The directorate general of foreign trade (DGFT) banned the export of HCQ on April 7. Two days later, the ban was lifted, incidentally, after United States President Donald Trump asked India to do so.

Interestingly, it was the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) that informed the revocation of the ban and not the DGFT. While making the announcement on April 7, the MEA said “the stock position could allow our companies to meet the export commitments” without specifying what that position was.

DTE had also asked the MoHFW that as to why there was a discrepancy between what Solicitor General of India, Tushar Mehta, said in the Supreme Court on April 8 and what the ICMR had said last month.

Mehta had said 15,000 tests were being conducted but that this was insufficient. So private labs had been roped in. However, on March 12, when private labs were allowed to test for the virus, the ICMR director general had said that they had volunteered.

Was this because government labs were proving to be insufficient now, DTE had asked.

Agarwal did not answer anything about sufficiency or the lack of it. He said, “Whatever testing we are doing, we are doing it according to protocol. We roped in private labs because we wanted adequate geographical availability. Their collections will help us manage better.”

DTE went on to check if the private labs were actually scattered across the geography of the country. Sixty-seven private labs were conducting tests for novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as on April 7, 2020, according to ICMR.

Most of the labs are concentrated in capitals of any given state.

Consequently, Mumbai has as many as nine private labs. Besides private, there are five government labs too conducting tests in the Maharashtra capital. The other private labs of the state include four in Pune and one in Thane.

Similarly, in Haryana, all six private labs are situated in Gurugram. A detailed summary is as follows:

Gurugram 6 0
Surat 2 1
Ahmedabad 3 1
Bengaluru 4 3
Mumbai 9 5
Thane 1 0
Pune 4 3
Bhubaneswar 1 2
Chennai 7 2
Vellore 1 0
Hyderabad 6 0
Secunderabad 3 0
Malkangiri 1 0
Lucknow 1 3
Noida 1 0
Dehradun 1 0
Kolkata 3 3
Delhi 8 7
Kozhikode 1 1
Ernakulam 1 0

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