India backs hydroxychloroquine for virus prevention

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A chemist displays hydroxychloroquine tablets in New Delhi, India, Thursday, 9 April 2020

India’s top biomedical research body on Tuesday backed the use of the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine as a preventive against coronavirus, after the WHO suspended clinical trials of the drug over safety concerns.

The endorsement from the Indian Council of Medical Research came a week after US President Donald Trump said he was taking the drug as a preventative measure. Observational and case control studies in India showed there were “no major side effects” of taking the drug as a prophylactic, ICMR Director-General Balram Bhargava said. Cases of nausea, vomiting and heart palpitations were noted, he added.

On Monday, the WHO said it was halting testing of the drug as a Covid-19 treatment after studies questioned its safety, including one that found it actually increased the risk of death.

Under India’s clinical guidelines for coronavirus treatment, hydroxychloroquine can be administered, but only to patients “with severe disease and requiring ICU management”.

India – which accounts for 70% of global production of hydroxychloroquine – on Tuesday reported 145,380 cases of the virus including 4,167 deaths. The country ramped up output of the drug amid increased demand, after Trump pushed for hydroxychloroquine as a potential shield or treatment for the virus.