By Akinwale Akinyoade
24 March 2020.
Last week, President Donald Trump of the United States approved the start of a clinical trial of the drug chloroquine as a treatment for the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re going to have some medications delivered that — we’re going to see if they work,” said Trump, who suggested clinical trials of chloroquine might begin on Tuesday.
For decades, chloroquine was used to treat malaria (it was approved to treat malaria by the FDA in 1949). In 2005, based on the recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Nigeria banned the drug as a first-line treatment drug for malaria. The decision was taken by the Federal Ministry of Health due to high treatment failures resulting from drug resistance and other side effects.
The announcement by Trump provoked a clamour for the unproven drug, amid reports of shortages. Everyone wants to stay safe as the coronavirus pandemic has since claimed thousands of lives since it broke out late 2019.
However, medical experts have issued warnings about the indiscriminate use of chloroquine an unproved medication for a novel disease.
Here are five reasons why you should not panic-treat yourself with chloroquine during this coronavirus pandemic according to BuzzFeed.
It is an unproven medication
The use of chloroquine in the fight against coronavirus is still in clinical trial stage with evidence about its effectiveness very weak. China added the use of chloroquine to its formulatory for treating coronavirus in February but Chinese data touting its efficacy is scant.
Infectious disease geneticist Gaetan Burgio of the Australian National University noted that statistically, weighing national responses to a pandemic on a study of 20 people was unwise. He argues that the French study was not conducted with doctors and patients blind to the treatment and that only a quarter of the placebo patients had their viral load measured.
Even worse, six patients dropped out of the trial from the group receiving the drug, and three of them ended up in intensive care and one died. These could be viewed as failures of the drug to work against the virus, Alfred Kim of the Washington University Lupus Clinic told Undark magazine.
The rush for the drug might interfere with efforts to test it in clinical trials
The use of chloroquine is in a trial stage but people rushing to take the unproven drug could interfere with efforts to find out if it really works or not.
There might be shortages for people who need it
Following President Donald Trump’s comments about the use of chloroquine, many people ran to the pharmacy to stock up the drugs. For many people arthritis and lupus, there are no alternatives to the use of chloroquine in preventing inflammation and disease activity that can lead to pain, disability, organ damage, and other serious illness.”
The drug shopping website GoodRx showed that between March 1 and March 16, there was a 57% surge in demand for hydroxychloroquine and a 90% increase in chloroquine, Bloomberg News reported.
The drug has side effects
Although doctors are familiar with the use of an old drug like chloroquine, it has side effects like most drugs with some severe. The Mayo Clinic lists 14 drugs that shouldn’t be taken with chloroquine, whose side effects can include blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, cramps, headache, and diarrhoea. Similar side effects are associated with hydroxychloroquine, another form of the drug, which is also linked to convulsions and “mental changes” by the US National Library of Medicine.
Nigeria reported two fatal overdoses after Trump’s remarks and asked people not to take the drug without a doctor’s orders. On Monday, an Arizona man in his sixties died after self-medicating with chloroquine phosphate, a drug meant to clean aquariums.
False drug hopes might take the brakes off social distancing too early
If people believe that a ‘cure’ has been found, then they may flaunt prevention rules and inadvertently spread the virus even further. Believing in chloroquine too early means that there would be an increased pressure to lean on a “miracle drug.”