WHO has resumed its trial of the drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), after the COVID-19 Solidarity Trial Data Safety & Monitoring Committee gave a green signal for the use of the drug. WHO had stopped its trial after a study by the reputed medical journal Lancet stated that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) isn't effective, and also raised questions on the safety of the drug. However, the Lancet later expressed concerns on the methodology of the paper, and said it was being reviewed by independent scientists and retracted it.
BOOM spoke to Dr SP Kalantri, Director Professor and Medical Superintendent, Kasturba Hospital, Sevagram, Nagpur to understand the debate around trials of HCQ. Dr Kalantri, a masters in public health in epidemiology from the School of Public Health in California said that India should use its 550 strong medical colleges network to begin randomised control trials of the drug to settle the debate about its efficacy and usage in the fight against COVID-19.
About how the use of HCQ for COVID-19 started
Dr SP Kalantri says that the initial studies for use of hydroxychloroquine came from France and China. He says, "These studies were poorly designed, not properly monitored and conducted on a very small sample set. They were just not equipped to answer whether hydroxychloroquine a safe and effective in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. These studies created a lot of hype but when researchers critically assessed them, they found that these studies were terrible."
How the perception of HCQ as a magical cure started
While US President Donald Trump is often blamed for promoting the usage of HCQ even before proper trials could be done, Dr S P Kalantri says, "Unfortunately, that was the time when the world was gripped with COVID-19 and that's when the perception that it's a magic drug started. Since it is an 80-year-old drug used for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, there are not many side effects of this drug."
"If it has worked on Petri dishes, then why shouldn't it exert its anti-viral properties where humans are concerned. Problem is that in science what works well on paper, falls flat. That's what happens in hydroxychloroquine, " said Dr Kalantri.
And what about India? "That's what happened in India. It's cheap, easily available, you can take it orally, has proven benefits. So the government thought let us try it out. The doctors wanted to do something for their patients, " said Dr Kalantri.
The way forward
Dr Kalantri has urged Indian government to take the lead. He said, "It is the time to design a beautiful, large, multi-centric randomized control trial in our country, test HCQ and tell them it is saving lives. And I am very sure it can be done because we have 550 medical colleges, we have large hospitals. Hospitals can easily recruit a population of 5000 from all over the country for a hydroxychloroquine trial and give an answer not only to the entire country but to the entire world about the safety and effectiveness of the drug. Unless we do this, we'll never be able to answer the question of what is happening to hydroxychloroquine."
Watch the full interview on YouTube here.
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