How India Is Winning Hearts, Minds & Money Via A Simple Anti-Malarial Drug?

Often at the heart of diplomacy, we see trade deals, weapons or financial assistance playing a massive part. However, an unlikely tool has been added to the list of diplomacy in recent times — Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a simple anti-malarial drug that has become the linchpin of Indian diplomacy. 

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Produced and exported in large quantities, the drug is now earning India adulation from countries all over the world and bolstering its diplomatic position and clout.

It all started when Donald Trump demanded India to supply the US with HCQ drug — which President Trump believed could be a game-changer in the fight against the coronavirus.

Earlier on March 25, India had banned the export of the drug — usually used for treating arthritis and malaria, in the midst of a global surge for the drug. However, the Modi-administration was quick to overturn this ban and agreed to supply it on humanitarian grounds.

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The threat from Trump drew the ire of many foreign policy experts in New Delhi but once the ban was revoked, Trump changed tune and thanked India for its help.

Trump took to Twitter to praise PM Modi said the US will ‘’remember’’ India’s help. The Indian PM also responded by tweeting ‘’Times like these bring friends closer.

The India-US partnership is stronger than ever. India shall do everything possible to help humanity’s fight against COVID-19. We shall win this together.’’

India is one of the largest producers of HCQ in the world and exports $50 m worth of it every year. India meets 80-85% of the medicine’s global demand and currently produces 10 metric tonnes (MT) and is estimated to increase to 40 MT by the end of the month.

Indian pharmaceutical companies are raising production capacity further to meet the demand for Hydroxychloroquine. By next month, the production is set to rise to 70 MT.

The demand for HCQ has put India in the spotlight. The drug had been requested by a host of countries all over the world and so far shipment for 13 countries is already on its way.

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India had also sent Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) to many countries including Canada and Brazil and the latter’s President was quick to praise India.

“As a result of my direct conversation with the Prime Minister of India, we will receive, until Saturday, the raw material to continue producing hydroxychloroquine, so that we can treat COVID-19 patients, as well as malaria, lupus, and arthritis,”

Bolsonaro said.“I thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian people for this very timely assistance to the Brazilian people,” he added.

India’s efforts were also applauded by Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu.

Ever since the pandemic has got worse, PM Modi has become more active in reaching out to the leaders of the world to create solidarity in fighting the pandemic. In addition to the ‘ medicine diplomacy,’ PM Modi also proposed a coronavirus fund for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, with New Delhi committing $10m.

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India’s leadership role has yielded a boost in terms of its global image especially when China is drawing flak over the lack of transparency in dealing with the virus. The ability to produce and supply quality drugs globally also raises the standard of Indian pharmaceutical companies worldwide.

Malaysia and Turkey — who have been highly critical of the Indian domestic policies (Kashmir and the Citizenship act), have joined the list of nations looking to import HCQ drug from India. “Earlier, New Delhi keeping all the difference apart, agreed to sell hydroxychloroquine tablets to Malaysia, a Malaysian minister told Reuters, with New Delhi partially lifting its bar on exports of the anti-malarial drug.

India’s soft power status got a major boost in the region after Modi-Government quickly responded to the Covid-19 pandemic in Mauritius and Seychelles and supplied HCQ tablets. India has also decided to use the Covid-19 fund set up by SAARC nations to assist key regional ally –  Afghanistan.

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Additionally, New Delhi had earlier vowed to supply hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and other essential drugs to Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh as they were totally reliant on the India for pharmaceuticals.

Once the post-pandemic world begins, India’s goodwill during the time of the COVID-19 crisis will surely strengthen its diplomatic position but remains a smaller part of the overall scenario according to Kanwal Sibal, India’s former foreign secretary.