The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), in an attempt to arrest the spread of COVID-19 in slums, plans to roll out the anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, as prophylaxis — a treatment course administered to prevent a disease — for the community. The first-of-its-kind pilot project will be implemented in Dharavi and Worli Koliwada this week.
Additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani on Monday told The Hindu that medical experts from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and NITI Aayog had given a green signal for the pilot.
“At present, 50,000 people are in the containment areas of Dharavi and Worli Koliwada each. We are planning to target the population in the containment areas in the age group of 18 to 55, but without any underlying ailments like diabetes and hypertension,” Mr. Kakani said.
Due to the global interest in the drug, there are concerns of a possible shortage in India. But civic officials said Mumbai had enough stock as of now. “We have 10 lakh tablets available. We are prepared to start the pilot in a day or two,” Mr. Kakani said.
Minor details of the project are being worked out. “It is a seven-week-long course. Our community health volunteers will be roped in to distribute the drug to the target population,” he said.
Hydroxychloroquine is also prescribed for patients with arthritis and lupus. The national task force set up for the novel coronavirus by the Indian Council of Medical Research has recommended the use of the drug as prophylaxis for asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in the treatment of positive COVID-19 patients as well as asymptomatic household contacts of positive patients.
But experts said there was a lack of robust data on the drug’s efficacy as treatment or prophylaxis against COVID-19.
“The drug is not without side effects. A baseline ECG is a must before putting people on this drug as it may have cardiotoxic effects,” said a Mumbai-based infectious disease specialist, adding the BMC’s rationale behind the community pilot is that “we don’t have many options to stop the spread.”