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World

India Reverses Export Ban On Hydroxycloroquine, Other Drugs Following Trump Pressure

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

India is one of the world's biggest manufacturers of medicines, including a certain malaria drug that President Trump has touted as a treatment for COVID-19. Last month, India limited exports of that drug and several others to ensure its own domestic supply. Then Trump complained. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports on what happened next.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The other thing that we bought a tremendous amount of is the hydroxychloroquine - hydroxychloroquine, which...

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: It's the drug President Trump has called a game changer for COVID-19, though there's little clinical evidence. India makes most of the world's supply of it. An Indian government epidemiologist, Raman Gangakhedkar, is skeptical of Trump's claim.

RAMAN GANGAKHEDKAR: (Speaking Hindi).

FRAYER: He says he does not believe hydroxychloroquine works on the coronavirus. It is proven to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. And so it's one of several medicines, including the painkiller acetaminophen, that India restricted exports of when the country went into lockdown. But the United States had already put in orders for hydroxychloroquine. And when Trump learned that they might not be fulfilled, he phoned up Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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TRUMP: I spoke to him Sunday morning, called him. And I said, we appreciate your allowing our supply to come out. If he doesn't allow it to come out, that would be OK. But of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn't there be?

FRAYER: Sunetra Choudhury is the political editor of the Hindustan Times.

SUNETRA CHOUDHURY: We all heard Trump's statement where he is seen to be making a not-so-subtle threat to India.

FRAYER: A day later, India announced a reversal, saying it's ensured adequate supplies for Indians and is now ready to export hydroxychloroquine to the United States. Choudhury notes all of this comes just six weeks after Trump was in India, hugging Prime Minister Modi at a stadium rally of a hundred thousand people.

CHOUDHURY: The timing and the context of Trump being in India and India really laying out the red carpet - all of it together makes it a political controversy.

FRAYER: Opposition leaders accuse Modi of caving to U.S. pressure. The Indian government denies that, though, and is casting this as a humanitarian gesture. In a text message to NPR, a government spokesman wrote that India is supplying essential drugs to some nations who've been particularly badly affected by the pandemic. The U.S. has had more than 13,000 coronavirus deaths, compared to about 150 reported in India.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.