‘Preventive’ medicine demand raises doubts

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommendation for the empirical use of hydroxy-chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug also used for rheumatoid arthritis, for prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infection has led to a reported rise in its demand in at least some districts in the State.

Public health activists have questioned the rationale behind the prescription without the tacit approval of the World Health Organization (WHO). They claim that panic buying of the drug will also deprive its benefits to thousands of patients who regularly use it.

Demand up

Functionaries of the All-Kerala Chemists and Druggists Association (AKCDA) and the Kerala Private Pharmacists’ Association (KPPA) confirmed on Thursday that the demand for the drug had gone up in the past few days. “We do not, however, have stocks as the medicine never used to sell that much,” A.N. Mohanan of the AKCDA said.

Galileo George, former general secretary, KPPA, said there had been many inquiries from districts such as Kasaragod, Kannur and Kollam.

Action warned

In the wake of the high demand and reported rise in sales, the Drugs Control Department in Kasaragod district warned of action under the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945 against those who sold the medicine without valid prescription from a registered medical practitioner.

The ICMR had advised that “asymptomatic health-care workers involved in the care of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19” and “asymptomatic household contacts of laboratory confirmed cases” can use it “on the prescription of a registered medical practitioner.”

Following this, a couple of voice clips, purportedly recorded by some doctors in the State, started doing the rounds in WhatsApp groups recommending health workers to use it as a preventive measure. Soon after, non-health workers also started sharing the messages. Medical shops started getting queries and there was panic buying in some places.

Not WHO recommended

Meanwhile, U. Nandakumar, public health activist, pointed out that the WHO had never advised using hydroxy-chloroquine as a preventive drug as a detailed study was yet to be undertaken. There had not been any evidence to prove its efficacy either.

“It is not like a vaccine that will provide immunity from a disease. The drug will not stay in the blood for long. For that to happen, you may have to consume it regularly. That defeats the purpose of its use as a preventive medicine,” he added.

Also, the clarification issued by the ICMR later that the unrestricted use of the medicine was not advisable as it was still in an experimental stage seems to have slipped the notice of many.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 11:48:55 PM |

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