Union Health Ministry officials on Monday advised against the use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as a treatment for COVID-19, stating that there is not enough evidence to support the same. Addressing the media on Monday, officials from the Union Health Ministry stated that currently, the drug is being given to healthcare workers and high-risk contacts of positive patients as a preventive measure. There is till date no vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease COVID-19.
However, they have stated that it cannot be given to the public at large to protect against COVID-19 as there has not been enough evidence to support this. Health Ministry officials stated that a study conducted to test the effectiveness of HCQ was also done on a small group of people and hence cannot be used as a basis to start administering HCQ as medicine to treat COVID-19 patients.
The study which had been done involved 30 individuals who had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.
â€śThe study has been conducted on 30 patients. Whether we can use it as a treatment based on a study of 30 patients, there is a debate on that. Some people will say we should, some will say I cannot. I possibly belong to the second camp. I do not think there is adequate experience now based on which we can use HCQ as a treatment,â€ť ICMRâ€™s Epidemiology Head Dr Gangakhedkar told the media.
Adding to this, Joint Secretary of the Health Ministry, Lav Agarwal, stated that the amount of evidence that India currently has on the effectiveness of the drug is not enough for it to be used as a treatment for COVID-19.
â€śThere is limited evidence with respect to the efficacy of HCQ. However, since there exists limited evidence, we have allowed it as prophylaxis for our healthcare workers who deal with COVID-19 patients or high-risk contacts. There is not sufficient evidence to take it at a community level. So because we have allowed based on limited evidence in some locations, because they have more exposure, that does not mean that a wrong perception is created in the community that anyone can take this. It is very important that technical guidance be followed because every medicine has a side effect, and only if advised, that the person takes HCQ and those who are not advised, I sincerely urge those not to take this medicine,â€ť Lav Agarwal said.
Earlier, US President Donald Trump had also spoken out in favour of using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, terming it a â€śgame changerâ€ť in the fight against the pandemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US, however, has warned against using hydroxychloroquine and has stated that it should only be used as prescribed under proper medical supervision.
Despite Indiaâ€™s decision to ban the export of the drug following its approval for use in certain situations, reports have emerged that the drug will be sent to the US following a request from Donald Trump.
On March 25, the government banned export of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine with immediate effect to ensure sufficient availability of the medicine in the domestic market. The Indian government included special economic zones (SEZs) under its prohibition ambit to ensure there is no shortfall during the COVID-19 crisis. The drug is also not allowed to be shipped by export oriented units (EOUs) or under any export promotion scheme.
"The export of hydroxychloroquine and formulations made from hydroxychloroquine...is no longer allowed from SEZs/EOUs or against Advance Authorisation or against full advance payment...The export shall remain prohibited without any exception," the directorate general of foreign trade (DGFT) has said in a notification.Under advance authorisation (AA) scheme, firms are allowed to import raw material at zero duty but with the condition of export obligation within a certified time frame. SEZs are treated as foreign territory in terms of customs laws.
In that notification, the DGFT had stated that export will be permitted from the SEZ and EOUs and in cases where the outbound shipment is made to fulfill export obligation under any advance authorisation license issued on or before the date of this notification, which is March 25, 2020.
(With PTI inputs)