I first heard about Hydroxychloroquine from my family Whatsapp group. Not the best recommendation for a drug, I dare say. Turns out that people are recommending it as a preventive against COVID-19. Sigh!
Donald Trump probably got forwarded the same message. (This is exactly why I keep harping on the dangers of Whatsapp University — you think it’s just one irresponsible message, but then it goes and does the butterfly effect thingy and causes a hurricane all the way in the White House!)
But what is Hydroxychloroquine? For those who missed the memo, Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug, invented in the 1950s. It is on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines. The drug is more tolerable than its predecessor chloroquine but is known to cause various side effects like headaches, nausea, lowering of blood glucose, drowsiness, reduced appetite, depression, irreversible blindness, and cramps. Overdose can even lead to death and therefore this is not a drug to be consumed based on the advice of an idiot — orange or otherwise.
What do the authorities say? It all started when the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug as a preventive for high-risk cases. However the ICMR has clearly stated that the drug should be used only for two categories of high-risk cases — health workers and household members of those tested positive for COVID-19.
In the age of social media however, people are thinking of it as a miracle cure and the drug is flying off the shelves in various Indian pharmacies. And after Trump’s twitter endorsement of hydroxychloroquine, three people have been hospitalized in Nigeria due to the side-effects caused by the drug.
Is it a miracle cure though?
It may well be. There have been small studies in China and France and some anecdotal evidence, but as the ICMR has clarified, it cannot be recommended as treatment with such limited data and evidence. Further, the European Medicines Agency, an agency of the EU, has advised that the drug be used only for clinical trials or emergency-use programmes.
India, as the manufacturer of 70 percent of the world’s hydroxychloroquine, is now on the speed-dial of all COVID-affected countries. After Trump’s threat of possible retaliation against India, which caused my country to lift the ban on export of the drug, our two leaders seem to have let bygones be bygones and are back to being BFFs.
Here’s what Trump said in a mostly unintelligible interview with Fox News:
“I bought millions of doses. More than 29 million. I spoke to Prime Minister Modi, a lot of it comes out of India. I asked him if he would release it? He was great. He was really good. You know they put a stop because they wanted it for India. But there is a lot of good things coming from that. Lot of people looking at it and saying, you know I don’t hear bad stories, I hear good stories. And I don’t hear anything where it was causing death. So it is not something like. . . . You know we are doing vaccines. Johnson and Johnson, they need to test that. It seems malaria affected counties are unaffected where it is common.”
Don’t believe Trump. There have been “good stories” and there have been “bad stories.” Apart from the three Nigerians who hospitalized after self-administering the drug, there is the case of an Indian doctor who also took it and died from cardiac arrest.
The wise thing to do is to stay home, stay safe and not consume any drugs unless prescribed by a well-qualified doctor.