Coronavirus Pandemic: Wondering what makes hydroxychloroquine so important in treating COVID-19 cases? Let’s do a quick recap on the buzz around it since Tuesday, when the Centre decided to ease the ban on hydroxychloroquine tablets. The development came soon after US President Donald Trump said that he would “retaliate” if India denied supplying the drug to the US. The drug has been a subject of much interest globally due to its role in treatment and prevention of coronavirus-induced COVID-19. Easing the ban, India said it would export the drug to the countries that needed it the most and to its neighbours who were “dependent” on India’s capabilities. An IE report states that hydroxychloroquine is an antimalarial drug which is less toxic than chloroquine and is prescribed in certain cases and also to patients of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
The IE report quoted a study from International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents (IJAA), which stated that among the 20 patients to whom the drug was administered, there was a significant viral carriage reduction. Moreover, the average carrying duration was also found to be much lower than in untreated patients, the study was quoted as saying by IE. The study also added that in cases where Azithromycin, which is an antibiotic, was added to hydroxychloroquine, the elimination of the virus was more efficient.
While the study was not well received due to its small scale, by the end of March, President Trump had started saying that the drug would be a “game changer” in the fight against COVID-19 and started pushing for it, IE reported.
The report also said that at the end of March, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommended that hydroxychloroquine be used in asymptomatic healthcare workers and allowed doctors to prescribe it to the household contacts of a confirmed patient of COVID-19. However, the Centre said that the drug should only be taken if prescribed and it should not instill a false sense of security among the people.
COVID-19: Are the claims of hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness true?
At present, the IE report said, two large studies are being conducted to assess the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in the treatment of COVID-19. The former study is a solidarity trial organised by the World Health Organization (WHO) and India is a part of the study. In this, clinicians globally have been instructed to follow a common procedure in treating patients with hydroxychloroquine.
The second study is a chloroquine accelerator trail, and it is being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust.
At the moment, there is no conclusion about the effectiveness of these drugs in treating COVID-19, the IE report quoted virologist and Wellcome Trust CEO Dr Shahid Jameel as saying.
COVID-19 pandemic: Issues for patients taking hydroxychloroquine for other ailments
After the statement from President Trump about hydroxychloroquine being a game changer, people in India started panic buying the drug, causing patients of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus to suffer from the lack of stocks, the IE report stated. Quoting rheumatology consultant Dr Naval Mendiratta, the report stated that people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can skip the medicine for a few days to a week due to the long-lasting effect of the medicine, but any longer than that would be difficult to manage.
After the ICMR issued the advisory, several patients and healthcare professionals stocked up on the drug. However, the government then moved the drug to Schedule H1, meaning that anyone who needs the drug, would have to get a fresh prescription whenever they need to buy the drug.