Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was already in use among frontline healthcare workers and contacts of confirmed coronavirus cases.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has issued a new advisory that expands the use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to more healthcare workers while illuminating its side-effects and efficacy. This anti-malarial drug was already in use as prophylactic among all asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in containment and treatment of COVID-19 and household contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases.
Based on three studies conducted by the ICMR, it is now recommended to be used as a preventive medication by asymptomatic healthcare workers working in non-COVID-19 hospitals, those who are performing surveillance duties in containment zones and police and paramilitary personnel participating in coronavirus infection-related activities.
The ICMR reviewed the use of the drug based on emerging evidence on its safety and efficacy but also cautioned that the drug should not instill a sense of false security. Frontline workers should continue to take appropriate precautions like wearing PPE.
The review was undertaken by the special task force instituted by ICMR. The Joint Monitoring Group under the Chairmanship of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) included representatives from AIIMS, ICMR, National Centre for Disease Control, National Disaster Management Authority, WHO, and other experts from large public hospitals.
According to the advisory, the recommendation is based on three studies – an investigation at three central government hospitals in New Delhi, an observational prospective study of 334 healthcare workers at AIIMS and a retrospective case-control analysis at ICMR. It was observed that “amongst healthcare workers involved in Covid-19 care, those on HCQ prophylaxis were less likely to develop SARS-CoV-2 infection, compared to those who were not on it”.
In addition to these three instances, the advisory also mentions an independent study by the National Institute of Virology in Pune which found out that HCQ reduces viral load under laboratory testing conditions.
The task force also released data about the harmful side effects of HCQ use among India’s doctors and nurses, mandating that they undergo an electrocardiogram (ECG) test before taking the drug. The advisory also cautions against using the drug on children under 15 years of age and on pregnant or lactating women.
It also mentions that the drug has to be administered by qualified medical personnel only and after obtaining the informed consent of the patient, it stated.
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