ICMR task force recommends anti-malaria hydroxy-chloroquine to treat high-risk Covid-19 cases

The compound is recommended only for a healthcare worker who is treating a Covid-19 patient.

The National Task Force for Covid-19 constituted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) on Monday recommended the use of anti-malaria drug hydroxy-chloroquine to treat the Covid-19 disease in high-risk cases albeit with utmost precaution.

ICMR Director-General Balram Bhargava said that the compound is recommended only for a healthcare worker who is treating a Covid-19 patient.

“Secondly, it’s recommended only for persons staying and caring for a household positive patient. They can take that only for prophylaxis, only for prevention,” he added.

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ICMR told the states that the placing of healthcare workers under chemoprophylaxis with hydroxy-chloroquine should not instil a sense of false security.

“They should follow all prescribed public health measures such as frequent washing of hands, respiratory etiquette, keeping a distance of minimum one metre and use of personal protective equipment (wherever applicable),” said the ICMR advisory.

“The high risk contacts of a positive case placed under chemo prophylaxis should remain in home quarantine while on prophylactic therapy. As recommended by the task force, the drug should only be given on the prescription of a registered medical practitioner,” it added.

Apart from the symptoms of Covid-19 (fever, cough, breathing difficulty), if the person on chemoprophylaxis develops any other symptoms, he should immediately seek medical treatment from the medical practitioner who has prescribed the chemoprophylaxis, said the ICMR advisory.

US President Donald Trump had claimed last week that chloroquine — one of the oldest and best-known anti-malarial drugs — had been approved by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).

“We’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately. And that’s where the FDA has been so great. They’ve gone through the approval process — it’s been approved,” he said during a White House briefing.

The FDA, however, has made it clear that the drug has not been approved yet for treating those infected with Covid-19.

When it comes to anti-malaria compounds chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, the “WHO scientific panel designing SOLIDARITY had originally decided to leave the duo out of the trial but had a change of heart at a meeting in Geneva on March 13 because the drugs ‘received significant attention in many countries’.”

The available data are still thin.

Researchers in France have published a study in which they treated 20 Covid-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine.

They concluded that the drug significantly reduced viral load in nasal swabs. But it was not a randomised controlled trial and it didn’t report clinical outcomes such as deaths, according to the prestigious journal Science.

However, scientists have suggested dozens of existing compounds for testing and the World Health Organization (WHO) is focusing on what it says are the four most promising therapies.

These are “an experimental antiviral compound called remdesivir; the malaria medications chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine; a combination of two anti-HIV drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir; and that same combination plus interferon-beta, an immune system messenger that can help cripple viruses,” said the article in the journal Science of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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