India's free-will the usage of HCQ in COVID-19: Medico

Mixed opinion by Indian experts on WHO's temporary pause on hydroxychloroquine trial in coronavirus treatment

With the World Health Organisation deciding to temporarily drop hydroxychloroquine from its global study into experimental COVID-19 treatments, doctors in India are divided in their opinions over the repercussions the move might have on the strategy to combat the pandemic.

While some experts feel that after the WHO decisions, country's medical centres will have to take HCQ and chloroquine our of the treatment regimen of COVID-19 patients, others opined it is "not binding" for India to oblige with the decision of the world body.

"The Lancet study found out that people who were given HCQ or chloroquine or, combination of azithromycin with HCQ or chloroquine, matching with other factors, ran the risk of having higher mortality due to cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)," city-based lung surgeon Dr Arvind Kumar said.

The study was done on nearly 15,000 patients, whose conditions were compared with those who weren't administered those drugs.

In a press briefing on Monday, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that in light of a paper published last week in the Lancet that showed people taking hydroxychloroquine were at higher risk of death and heart problems, there would be "a temporary pause" on the hydroxychloroquine arm of its global clinical trial.

The WHO said that its experts need to review all available evidence to date.

As countries around the world explored the potential of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients, several experts earlier in May had sounded a note of warning to say it is not a wonder drug and may even be fatal in some cases.

After the fresh announcement by the WHO, while doctors like Kumar feel the anti-malarial drug will be taken out of the treatment regimen of COVID-19 patients, other medical experts said, India may take its own call on the HCQ.

"This is sort of a guideline, and not a diktat from the WHO, and so India is free to decide on its own whether to go ahead with use of HCQ or halt it," said Dr Rajesh Kumar Gupta, Additional Director, Pulmonology and Critical Care, Fortis Noida.

He, however, said, India has no national registry or own study to assess the impact of drugs on its own population.

"And, though it is not binding to accept what WHO said, we have no choice, but to accept what other experts have come up with. Otherwise, people will question, on what basis are we continuing the use of the drug on COVID-19 patients," he said.

As the pandemic spread and the urgency for effective treatment of COVID-19 mounted, several countries, including the US, have already started relying heavily on HCQ, majorly used in the treatment of malaria and rheumatoid-arthritis.

India has become the biggest supplier of the drug and has fulfilled large orders from countries such as the US, the UAE and the UK.

With US President Donald Trump touting the anti-malaria drug as a definite cure for COVID-19, his administration has stockpiled millions of doses of HCQ despite the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issuing a safety communication regarding the known side effects of the drug.

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