India authorizes use of malaria drug to prevent coronavirus infection

By Sarwar Kashani

New Delhi, Mar 23 (efe-epa).- India on Monday authorized the use of hydroxychloroquine, a generic anti-malaria drug, for prevention of the novel coronavirus infection as the country grapples with the spread of the deadly disease that has claimed seven lives so far.

The authorization came as the government ordered a slew of measures, including a complete lockdown of 75 districts, to contain the disease in the densely inhabited country, which is the second-most populous in the world.

The go-ahead to prescribe the drug, sold under the popular brand name of Plaquenil in Europe and HCQS in India, was given by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the country’s apex body for biomedical research and the nodal testing agency for coronavirus patients.

“The National Task Force for Covid-19 constituted by the ICMR recommends the use of hydroxychloroquine for prophylaxis of SARS-Cov-2 infection for high-risk population,” India’s health ministry said in a statement.

The advisory said the high-risk people include asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in the care of suspected or confirmed coronavirus patients and family members of laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 sick people.

The ICMR recommendation said hydroxychloroquine has been found “effective against coronavirus in laboratory studies and in-vivo studies”.

It said 400 milligrams of the drug should be given under a doctor’s supervision twice a day on Day 1, followed by the same quantity once weekly for the next three to seven weeks.

The drug was examined for Covid-19 patients in clinical studies in France which found that taken with azithromycin antibiotic mechanism, it could be beneficial in the fight against coronavirus infection, Nadeem ur Rehman, a senior consultant with prominent Indian healhcare provider Medanta, told EFE.

“The WHO has now started mega trials of the drug. It has shown benefits but the (United States) FDA has not approved it as yet. The drug is usually used in auto-immune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis,” he said.

“It is a first-line drug and if people start buying it in large quantities and hoarding it (out of the coronavirus fear), it will create a problem and deprive patients who need it,” Rehman warned.

As the number of cases kept rising in India, the government on Monday put large parts of the country, including capital New Delhi and its suburbs, under complete lockdown until Mar.31.

This measure aims to force people to stay at home and prevent the spread of coronavirus. The police were given powers to punish violators and enforce the lockdown, although essential services have been exempted.

Some “19 states and union territories have issued complete lockdown orders while six states and union territories have locked some areas,” a government spokesperson said in New Delhi.

“All commercial airlines shall cease operations with effect from the mid-night on Tuesday”, he added..

Offices in New Delhi and its satellite towns of Gurugram and Noida, which have also been locked down, were closed with a large number of employees working from home to minimize people to people contact.

The shutdown order was enforced after Indians stayed indoors on Sunday in response to a call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a day-long self-isolation to contain the outbreak. The “people’s curfew” on Sunday was voluntary.

Experts have cast doubts over the relatively small number of cases in the country of over 1.3 billion people – which had officially reported 425 patients by Monday morning – saying the real figure may not be known because of a lack of testing facilities.

The ICMR on Sunday widened the scope of testing to include some asymptomatic individuals. EFE-EPA


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