NEW DELHI: India is witnessing a high number of COVID-19 cases and the impact of the pandemic is more severe than expected. The national task force for COVID-19 constituted by the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has found that taking hydroxychloroquine(HCQ) minimises the risk of COVID-19 infection. ICMR has revised its guidelines stating that HCQ can be used as the preventive treatment against the novel coronavirus. Interestingly, the revised advisory from the premier health research institute runs in complete contrast with recent research reports that see limited or no benefit from the drug. These reports also claim that HCQ can even enhance the risk of a cardiac arrest among COVID-19 patients.
Earlier, the research body recommended the use of HCQ for treating COVID-19 patients, healthcare workers, and front-liners who are being infected by the virus. But due to the lack of scientific evidence, ICMR had drawn that advisory amid severe criticism. The research body undertook an investigation at three central government hospitals in New Delhi and found that healthcare workers involved in COVID-19 care, those on HCQ prophylaxis, were less likely to fall prey to COVID-19 infection than those who were not. Based on these reports, ICMR has decided to administer the ant-malarial drug as a preventive therapy to asymptomatic healthcare workers in non-COVID hospitals as well as non-COVID blocks of hospitals that are used for COVID-19 treatment.
An ICMR advisory about the usage of HCQ states: "With available evidence for its safety and beneficial effect as a prophylactic drug against SARS-CoV-2 during the earlier recommended eight weeks period, the experts further recommended for its use beyond eight weeks on weekly dosage with strict monitoring of clinical and ECG parameters, which would also ensure that the therapy is given under supervision." ICMR also stated that in some rare cases, the drug, HCQ may cause blurring of vision which is usually self-limiting and improves on discontinuation of the drug. It clarified stating, "for the above-cited reasons the drug has to be given under strict medical supervision with informed consent". However, reputed medical journal Lancet in one of its reports expressed concern that the COVID-19 patients being treated with HCQ and chloroquine are at increased risk of death and irregular heart rhythms. Almost echoing this fear, the WHO in its latest press briefing said that the health agency's views on the usage of HCQ for COVID-19 treatment have not changed.