India Defies W.H.O. Warning, Backs Hydroxychloroquine for Coronavirus

This Monday, April 6, 2020, photo shows an arrangement of Hydroxychloroquine pills in Las Vegas. President Donald Trump and his administration are keeping up their out-sized promotion of the anti-malaria drug not yet officially approved for fighting the new coronavirus, but scientists say more testing is needed before it's proven …
AP Photo/John Locher

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said it supports the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to prevent coronavirus on Tuesday despite the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) suspending clinical trials of the drug over safety concerns, the Times of India (TOI) reported.

The ICMR, India’s top biomedical research body, has directed the Indian government’s response to the ongoing Chinese coronavirus pandemic. The council’s endorsement of HCQ comes one week after U.S. President Donald Trump said he has been taking the drug as a preventive measure against the coronavirus.

The ICMR recorded “no major side effects” of taking the drug as a prophylactic [preventive medicine] in observational and case-control studies in India, the council’s director-general, Balram Bhargava said on Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). Bhargava added that some instances of “nausea, vomiting, and heart palpitations” were noted.

Last week, the ICMR expanded its guidelines for taking HCQ as a preventive drug for coronavirus. It announced all healthcare workers in hospitals and some frontline workers could now take HCQ for “up to several weeks” under strict medical supervision.

“We recommended that for prophylaxis [preventive medicine], it should be continued because there is no harm. Benefit may be there,” Bhargava explained in statements to the press on Tuesday, as reported by AFP.

He added that once the ICMR determined that the potential benefits of HCQ outweigh its possible risks, the council decided “we should not deny it to our frontline workers and healthcare workers.” Bhargava also said that healthcare workers and those working on the frontlines taking the drug should still wear personal protective gear to further protect themselves from contracting the virus.

Previously, the ICMR’s guidelines for HCQ allowed “only asymptomatic healthcare workers caring for suspected or confirmed patients, or household contacts of confirmed patients” to take the drug as preventive medicine for coronavirus, according to the report.

On Monday, the W.H.O. said it was halting testing of the drug as a coronavirus treatment after studies reportedly led to doubts over its safety.

India manufactures 70 percent of the world’s supply of HCQ and has increased production of the drug in recent weeks as doctors around the world continue to use it to treat coronavirus patients. Last month, India announced it would supply 85 million HCQ tablets to 108 countries to support the global effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, an Indian government source told the TOI that India would continue to export the promised shipments of HCQ to foreign countries despite the W.H.O.’s suspension of HCQ trials. The Indian government will “check if the countries who have not yet received HCQ supplies still want it as the medicine is used for other ailments too,” according to the source.

At press time on Wednesday, India reported 158,086 infections and 4,534 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.

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