A day after the Indian government allowed the United States to buy 29 million doses of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug believed effective in the treatment of COVID-19, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor told President Donald Trump that India had "selflessly agreed" to the sale and asked if the US would reciprocate by granting India "first priority" in the sharing of any COVID-19 vaccine that may be developed in American laboratories.
Mr Tharoor's tweet came shortly after the government declared a one-off exception to its ban on exporting the drug "in view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic". Similar requests have been made by other countries, including Sri Lanka and Nepal, and the government is studying these.
"Mr President, since India has selflessly agreed to give you the supply you seek of hydroxychloroquine, will you grant India first priority in sharing with us any COVID-19 vaccine that might be developed in US labs?" Shashi Tharoor tweeted this afternoon.
Mr President @realDonaldTrump, since India has selflessly agreed to give you the supply you seek of hydroxychloroquine, will you grant India first priority in sharing with us any #COVID19 vaccine that might be developed in US labs? @USAndIndia@USAmbIndia@PMOIndiahttps://t.co/M7Pze4d9CC— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) April 8, 2020
Last month the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research, the government's nodal body in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak) recommended use of hydroxychloroquine on healthcare workers attending to coronavirus patients. On March 25 the government banned export of the drug till domestic reserves were deemed sufficient.
On Monday, during a press briefing at the White House, Donald Trump said he would be "surprised if he (Prime Minister Modi) would" stand firm over his ban on the export of the drug.
"I didn't hear it was his decision. I know that he stopped it for other countries (but) I spoke to him yesterday and we had a very good talk... I said we'd appreciate you allowing our supply to come out. If he doesn't allow it to come... there may be retaliation," Mr Trump said, referring to his Sunday phone call with PM Modi.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi reacted to Mr Trump's warning, tweeting: "Friendship isn't about retaliation". "India must help all nations in their hour of need but life-saving medicines should be made available to Indians in ample quantities first," Mr Gandhi said.
India manufactures around 70 per cent (approximately 20 crore tablets of 200 mg each) of the world's hydroxychloroquine supply.
There are over 4,600 active coronavirus cases in India and at least 149 deaths have been linked to the virus. In the United States, which has now become the epicentre of this pandemic, more than four lakh people have been infected and 13,000 have died.