Could a pair of decades-old, relatively inexpensive anti-malarial drugs be the solution to the novel coronavirus pandemic?
Around the world, countries are expanding access to hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, related compounds that are synthetic forms of quinine, which comes from cinchona trees and has been used for centuries to treat malaria.
“Hydrochloroquine is well tolerated because we are in a global health emergency. We need to treat patients and cure them faster in order to take care of other patients and free up space. The benefit to risk ratio was in favour of the benefits,” according to a Senegalese medic.
Hydrochloroquine which is the less toxic of the two, is also used as an anti-inflammatory to treat conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
The medicines have shown early promise against the COVID-19 illness in early studies in France and China, which led US President Donald Trump this week to call them a “gift from God” — even as experts urge caution until bigger trials validate their effectiveness.
Nigeria’s Lagos State earlier this month recorded cases of chloroquine overdoses after Trump’s claim. The disease control outfit, NCDC, warned people against using the drug given that it had not been clinically tested as a prevention or treatment for coronavirus.
Sales of the drug spiked especially in Lagos and the capital Abuja. The same situation was recorded in Senegal of massive use. Algeria last week approved the drug for certain cases of coronavirus treatment.
In a region where malaria still remains a public health issue for most countries, the use of chloroquine and other anti-malarial variants are common in many places.