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Use hydroxychloroquine with caution: ICMR warns amid confusion over use of drug for Covid-19

ICMR epidemiology chief Raman Gangakhedkar calls hydroxychloroquine usage ‘experimental’, says it should not be used without doctor's supervision.

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New Delhi: The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Tuesday warned against an inordinate use of hydroxychloroquine, just a day after the apex research body issued an advisory on using it as a preventive drug against the novel coronavirus.

At an ICMR press meet, its epidemiology head Dr Raman Gangakhedkar called the usage of the anti-malarial drug as “experimental”, adding the use should only be restricted to health workers and those who are asymptomatic contacts of lab-confirmed cases.

“The medicine should not be taken without supervision of the doctor,” he said, adding those below the age of 15 and above 60 should not take the drug.

Gangakhedkar said ICMR is still studying the impact of the drug and the evidence will have to be evaluated before its wider use.

Many countries including the US are using the drug as a life-saving measure amid the widening coronavirus outbreak. On Monday, India’s National Task Force approved its restricted use for “emergency situations”.

Also read: HIV drug combo approved by ICMR for coronavirus treatment fails clinical trials in China

Confusion over impact

Hydroxychloroquine is used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. But its overdose can cause acute poisoning and even death. The World Health Organization (WHO) is yet to complete clinical trials to assess the drug’s long term impact on Covid-19 testing.

After US President Donald Trump endorsed the drug for coronavirus treatment, Nigeria has reported overdosing cases by chloroquine, an analog drug which has a similar structure but different chemical and biological properties.

Experts in the US have been divided over the efficacy of chloroquine, asking for it tested first, and its over-the-counter sales stopped.

Covid-19 testing in India

Speaking at the press meet, Gangakhedkar also mentioned the increased Covid-19 testing capacity in the country, with 118 laboratories being included in the ICMR network. The capacity has now reached 12,000 samples a day.

“Since the last five days, we have conducted 1,350 tests a day,” he said.

Further, 22 private laboratories have now been registered with ICMR for Covid-19 testing and they have 15,500 collection centres nationwide. “We have thus increased the access to Covid-19 testing across the country,” he said.

On Monday, the ICMR’s National Institute of Virology validated three commercial Covid-19 kits, including that of Indian firm Mylab.

The ICMR also clarified that it has established a fast-track mechanism for validating non-USFDA- and EU-certified kits. Its earlier guidelines said only USFDA- and EU-certified kits will be used for testing Covid-19.

India has reported over 500 confirmed coronavirus cases and 10 deaths as of now.

Also read: Paracetamol, chloroquine & Google translator: How Medanta treated Italians with coronavirus


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