COVID-19 cure: Hydroxychloroquine dilemma divides world

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Palki SharmaUpdated: Jul 09, 2020, 12:17 AM IST
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The world is divided over HCQ. Two camps have emerged.

The humble hydroxychloroquine is back in the headlines. The reason remains the same.

Months have passed but the world is divided over HCQ even as two camps have emerged - pro-HCQ camp that includes countries that are widely prescribing it and the anti-HCQ countries and world bodies that stopped using the drug.

The reason why HCQ is so popular is because of its high profile endorsers - Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. They are firmly in the pro-HCQ camp, however, the drug is also controversial for the same reason.

The publicity around the drug spiked in May when US President Trump revealed that he was taking HCQ but America's drug regulator advised against its use even though the Trump administration isn't convinced.

On Tuesday, an official defended the US President's endorsement of the drug citing India as an example. He said: “This has become a highly politicised, but India uses this widely for prophylaxis. There are a number of studies which point to this actually working.”

HCQ is being widely used in India both for the treatment of COVID-19 patients as well as preventative measures but reports say India is re-thinking its policy.

It comes after the World Health Organisation stopped an HCQ trial for the second time. It said the drug wasn't working in the trials.

So, does HCQ work or not. No one has a clear answer yet. The science remains inconclusive on HCQ. Some studies say it works.

Others say the drug is ineffective. Still, others say it has serious side effects. The jury is still out on HCQ.

However, the fact is the world is gripped by two pandemics right now. One is the disease itself and the other is the politics of the pandemic. No one has found a cure for either.

In the case of HCQ, it is politics that is driving the decision of the lawmakers.

In Brazil's case, President Jair Bolsonaro has recorded a video of himself taking a dose of HCQ. Bolsonaro has followed Trump's stand but he has been more irresponsible and dangerous.

Since the outbreak in Brazil, Bolsonaro has attended rallies and broken every rule of social distancing. In June, Bolsonaro was ordered by a federal judge to wear a mask in public. The Brazilian president is a coronavirus sceptic.

Even after being tested positive, he has downplayed the diagnosis but just like Trump, Bolsonaro has been obsessed with HCQ.

Earlier, the Brazilian president had admitted that he keeps a box of the drug in case his 93-year-old mother needs it. Now, it seems Bolsonaro is using the supply not because any scientist recommended it. The Brazilian president's vote of support for HCQ is based on anecdotal reports.

Under Bolsonaro, decisions on the COVID-19 crisis have become measures of political loyalty. As the situation in Brazil worsened, Bolsonaro pushed the health ministry to encourage widespread use of HCQ and chloroquine even when a study in Brazil was halted after patients developed irregular heart rates.

Brazil lost two health ministers over Bolsonaro's demand. One was fired in April. The other didn't even last a month in the job.

The new man on the job is someone with no medical experience. He complied with Bolsonaro's request and issued guidance that encouraged doctors to prescribe HCQ.

The coronavirus is a global public health crisis. But its response is strictly determined by local factors. Leaders have clutched onto HCQ because its cheap.

In India, a strip of 15 tablets can be bought for as less as 100 rupees. This is the reason HCQ is such a hit. It can be bought for cheap and administered en masse almost like a silver bullet, but, HCQ is not a silver bullet  - at least for now.

There are more than 200 trials underway around the world just to figure out if HCQ works or not. The doctors are worried about the potential side effects of the drug. It's an attempt to build a narrative, Trump and Bolsonaro are being portrayed as saviours fighting an evil system.

They are pushing the idea that a cure exists and it works something that people around the world are desperate for but there are few who believe this line of argument so far including doctors and scientists.