It’s been a tough time across globe with Covid-19 impact raising day by day. And, If there is one drug that has been most discussed globally in recent weeks, it is hydroxychloroquine. Yes! Donald Trump calling hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as the ‘biggest game changer’ in the history of medicine has brought the drug to the centre stage.
US President Donald Trump on April 6 requested India to ease export restrictions on the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol and warned of retaliation if India refused. The issue, as it seems, has the potential to become political as India needs the drug as well.
Why its sudden popularity for hydroxychloroquine?
A study by French researchers headed by Professor Didier Raoult of Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire (IHU), Marseilles on March 16 reported that after treating 24 patients for six days with hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin, the virus disappeared in all but a quarter of them. The research has not yet been peer-reviewed nor formally published in a medical journal. Many experts called the study too small and anecdotal.
India too recommended hydroxychloroquine as prophylactic for its healthcare workers and high-risk individuals to prevent novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, infections. People have been running to pharmacy stores to stock up on hydroxychloroquine. With drug stores running out of Hydroxychloroquine, the government ensured the drug is only available on prescription and warned chemists of stringent action if the drug is sold without valid prescription.
Despite expert reservations on the drug’s effectiveness and side-effects, the US Food & Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) to Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to allow hydroxychloroquine sulfate and chloroquine phosphate products donated to the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to be distributed and prescribed by doctors to a hospitalised teen and adult patients with COVID-19, as appropriate, when a clinical trial is not available or feasible.
To be sure to establish the effective is hydroxychloroquine, we need to test the drug against in a large randomised controlled clinical trial. This could take several months for results to be conclusive.
A second study by researchers from Shanghai University in China has cast doubts on effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine. The study published last week was done on 30 patients hospitalised for COVID-19.
The study couldn’t find any significant difference between the patients who received hydroxychloroquine and those who gt placebo or dummy pill.
Interestingly, the Chinese study though very small in sample size was random and controlled making it more reliable.
Status of trials on Coronavirus Vaccine:
Despite the contrarian views among experts. Hospitals in US have started adding hydroxychloroquine as part of their treatment protocols for COVID-19. Multiple clinical trials are underway in US, Australia, and other countries to establish whether the drug works or not.
To be sure, physicians are scrambling to treat COVID-19 patients in the absence of any approved drug or vaccine. Researchers are testing available drugs to see if they are any use against the disease.
As a goodwill gesture pharma companies have started donating hydroxychloroquine in large amounts to the government.