The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Tuesday informed the Rajya Sabha that it does not have any data to confirm the safety and effectiveness of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine when given to healthcare workers to stave off Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
In a written response to an unstarred question by Trinamool Congress leader Manas Bhunia, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Choubey said the government has re-purposed the drug for treatment of mild – but high-risk cases – and for moderate cases of Covid-19. “However, the drug is not recommended for severe cases and those with pre-existing cardiac disease,” the minister added.
When asked about the details of using pattern of HCQ among doctors, nurses, health workers and other frontline Corona warriors during the pandemic, Chobey said: “Ministry of Health & Family Welfare does not maintain data on using patterns of Hydroxychloroquine by Doctors, Nurses, health workers, and other frontline corona warriors.”
Hydroxychloroquine, which at one point was considered to be a possible cure for Covid-19, had garnered a lot of interest with several studies and public figures like United States President Donald Trump endorsing it. India has been using the drug extensively, and has also exported it to many other countries including the United States.
On May 22, the health ministry had revised its advisory on the use of hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic against the coronavirus. The drug was recommended for “asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in the care of suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19” and “asymptomatic household contacts of laboratory confirmed cases”.
The Indian Council of Medical Research, later amended the guidelines to also include other frontline workers such as police personnel. Justifying its decision, the ICMR cited three indigenous observational studies, which purportedly showed that Indian healthcare workers who had taken the drug, as per its previous advisory, were less likely to contract the disease. But none of these studies were randomised controlled trials – the standard for clinical trials.
In its response to whether the government had any accurate data confirming the efficacy of HCQ in treating Covid-19, the health ministry informed the House that hydroxychloroquine has demonstrated “in vitro activity against SARS-CoV2”. It said the drug was shown to be clinically beneficial in “several small single centre studies”, but with “significant limitations”.
“Nonetheless, other observational studies with severe methodologic limitations have shown no effect on mortality or other clinically meaningful outcomes,” the health ministry added. “This drug has been used widely in India for other ailments where it is used for prolonged periods of time, with good safety profile.”
Of the total 10.84 crore 200 mg tablets of HCQ produced in the country, the government allocated 97,20,000 tablets to Maharashtra, the highest in the country. This is followed by Uttar Pradesh, which was given 89,40,000 tablets of the drug. Delhi received 64,80,000, while Tamil Nadu got 72,30,000 tablets, the response said.
The health ministry further informed the Upper House that India has exported hydroxychloroquine to more than 140 countries so far.