New Delhi: The government’s recommendation to consume anti-malaria drug chloroquine for the prevention of Covid-19 infection is a “well thought expert opinion”, said V.K. Paul, member of government’s policy think tank NITI Aayog.
An advisory, released on 22 March by the national task force set up by the government to fight Covid-19, has recommended that the healthcare workers and high-risk individuals can use anti-malarial drug “hydroxychloroquine” to prevent Covid-19 infection.
Paul, who also heads the task force, told ThePrint the advisory was based on several studies and anecdotal references.
“The advice is a well thought expert opinion. The decision is based on the available pre-clinical and clinical data, which also involves several studies recently done in China. We have also considered the anecdotal studies. Overall, we had strong data to advise the drug as a ‘preventive’ measure,” Paul said.
However, he added: “The advisory is strictly for the high-risk group patients and not for anyone else. It is a drug that is recommended to take only under emergency circumstances.”
The government’s advisory drew criticism as it was released without a solid scientific evidence that the drug works against the novel coronavirus.
The advisory placed two categories under the drug — healthcare workers dealing with Covid-19 patients and household contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases.
Hydroxychloroquine is a derivative of chloroquine, which has both anti-malarial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Labelled as a game-changer
The popular anti-parasitic medication, which treats malaria, has been around since the 1940s.
It works by increasing the levels of haem or heme — a substance toxic to the malarial parasite — in the blood. This kills the parasite and stops the infection from spreading.
Several clinical trials are going across the world to check the efficacy of the drug in treating the coronavirus pandemic.
US President Donald Trump Thursday called it a “game changer.” American drug regulator, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), is also currently looking at widespread clinical trials of the drug.
Clinical trials ongoing in China
An overdose of chloroquine can cause acute poisoning and death. In the past years, malaria-causing parasites developed resistance to this drug, and chloroquine began to go out of clinical practice.
On the other hand, hydroxychloroquine, first synthesised in 1946, was a safer derivative and is more easily available at present.
Several clinical trials are ongoing in China to test the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19, which is a less toxic metabolite of chloroquine used to treat rheumatic diseases.
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