The Indian Council of Medical Research on Tuesday said that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine may still be used against the coronavirus as it has not found any major side-effects on its use. The announcement came a day after the World Health Organization “temporarily suspended” trials of the drug citing safety concerns.

“It should be continued because there is no harm, benefit may be there,” said ICMR’s Director General Dr Balram Bhargava at the media briefing on the coronavirus situation in India. “We’ve clearly advised that it [HCQ] should be taken with food. Looking at the risk benefit...we should not deny our frontline workers and healthcare workers who are going to be dealing with the patients of Covid and can get some treatment.”

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Covid-19: WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine, after study shows it increases mortality rate

Bhargava said that the medical body has received biological plausibility and conducted in-vitro studies that showed the drug has anti-viral activity. He also noted that ICMR had advocated for studies on the drug’s performance.

The director reiterated that the use of personal protective equipment should be continued as mandated. He further said that testing for Covid-19 has gone up in the last few months and 1.1 lakh samples are tested every day.

The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said that the country’s fatality rate is now 2.87%, which is significantly lower than the death rate in countries with a high number of cases. He also attributed the low fatality rate to the government’s aggressive containment measures.

Agarwal added that the nation has recorded 10.7 cases per lakh of population when compared to 69.9 cases per lakh of population for the entire world. He said that a total of 60,490 Covid-19 patients have recovered so far. “Recovery rate continues to improve and presently it is 41.61%,” he added.

India has been using the drug extensively, and has also exported it to many other countries including the United States. On May 22, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare revised its advisory on the use of hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic against the coronavirus. The ministry’s decision came after the National Task Force, constituted by the ICMR, reviewed and recommended the use of the drug for coronavirus patients.

Meanwhile, All India Institute Of Medical Sciences Director Dr Randeep Guleria said there are certain drugs which, along with hydroxychloroquine, may raise the “chance of cardiac toxicity”. “There are two different aspects, using hydroxychloroquine as part of treatment for severe Covid-19 [cases] has higher chance that you may have toxicity because of multiple drugs being used,” he told ANI. “On the other hand, when we are giving it as prophylaxis or in mild illness and giving it alone the chances of side effects are much less.”

India has recorded 6,535 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday morning. With this, the total number of cases reached 1,45,380 and the toll rose to 4,167 after 146 new fatalities. The country is among the top 10 nations with most cases.

WHO’s stand on HCQ

The world body’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday that the decision to temporarily stop HCQ’s trial was taken based on a study in medical journal The Lancet, published on May 22. The study had said that hydroxychloroquine could increase patient mortality rate in hospitals. The study also found that those administered the drug showed a higher frequency of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Ghebreyesus said the trial was being suspended “while the safety is reviewed”.