India banned the export of antiviral drug remdesivir and its active pharmaceutical ingredients as demand rocketed amid a record surge in COVID-19 infections and led to shortages in many parts of the country.
New daily infections surged to 152,879 on Sunday, the sixth record rise in seven days, overwhelming hospitals in some regions. India, known as the pharmacy of the world, has already stalled major exports of coronavirus vaccines.
In addition to the remdesivir ban “till the situation improves”, the health ministry said in a statement that manufacturers had been asked to step up supplies.
Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences, with an installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per month, for local use and exports to more than 100 countries.
The World Health Organization in November issued a conditional recommendation against the use of remdesivir on hospitalised patients, regardless of disease severity, saying there was no evidence that the drug improved survival and other outcomes in these patients.
Many countries, including India, however, have continued to use it.
Amid soaring infections, deaths have also surged, with the health ministry reporting 839 fatalities on Sunday – the highest in more than five months – taking the total to 169,275.
India’s tally of more than 13.35 million cases is the third-highest globally, behind only the United States and Brazil.
India has administered more than 100 million doses to front-line workers and people above 45 in India’s vaccination drive, which began early this year.
However, several states have claimed they are facing vaccine shortages despite assurances from the government.