Mbabane: The Ministry of Health has strongly warned against taking of the drug – hydroxychloquine, that is used by the US President Donald Trump to prevent coronavirus.
Director of Health in the Ministry of Health Dr. Vusi Magagula sternly said “a person can only take the drug when it has been prescribed by a qualified doctor”, adding that it should be taken under strict monitoring because it has highly dangerous effects.
“The fact that Donald Trump has disclosed that he is taking the drug to prevent contracting the deadly COVID-19 doesn’t mean anyone can take it. Trump is taking it because it was prescribed by his doctor and therefore, I expect anyone who could be yearning to use it to follow the same route as Trump.” Magagula told Independent News on Tuesday.
Dr. Magagula further warned pharmacies against giving people who would come with the intention to purchase the drug over the counter without any doctor’s prescription. “We don’t expect to hear that drugstores are selling the drug to anyone without any prescription,” he strictly warned.
A transient visit by Independent News to some of the medical drugs selling shops discovered that the drug was out of stock but the shop assistants were coy to disclose if they were sold out to only people who had prescription. Clicks told the Independent News team that they were out of stock and they would be back on the shelves next week, but they emphasized that they were only selling them to those with prescription because they are highly dangerous.
Trump’s revelation sparked immediate criticism last night, including from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who said the ‘morbidly obese’ president is putting his health at risk.
Trump, 73, said he started taking the medication ‘a couple of weeks ago’ because “good things are being said about it” helping coronavirus patients.
He has previously touted hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus ‘cure’, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned the drug – which is typically used to treat malaria – has a range of possibly lethal side-effects and has not been proven as an effective COVID-19 treatment.
Several studies are underway into the drug’s effectiveness in treating coronavirus and whether it can also protect against the disease, but so far there is no clear evidence it is beneficial.
Following Trump’s admission, House Speaker Pelosi was among a host of doctors and politicians who branded the move irresponsible.
She told CNN: “He’s our president and I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists.
“Especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group, what is morbidly obese, they say. So, I think that it’s not a good idea.”
However, a memo released by the White House shows that physician Dr. Sean Conley discussed the drug with Trump and concluded that the potential benefits of taking it outweighed the risks.
Trump’s spokeswoman later told the New York Times that the president had been prescribed the drug and has been taking it, after Dr. Conley’s note left some doubt.
The president said he does not have the virus, which has infected 1.53 million Americans and killed more than 90 000.
But speaking at the White House during an event with restaurant workers he said: “I’m taking it – hydroxychloroquine. Right now, yeah. A couple of weeks ago, started taking it.”
Trump did not say what prompted him to start taking the drug, though it comes after several White House staffers were diagnosed with coronavirus.
The Food and Drug Administration warned in April that hydroxychloroquine can significantly increase the risk of death in people, especially those with heart problems, and cautioned against its use.
A study of 150 patients published in peer-reviewed medical journal The BMJ this month found the drug did not significantly improve outcomes for coronavirus patients, but did induce potentially-serious side effects in a third of those taking it.
Hope was sparked early on in the crisis when an early French study suggested the drug could have both antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects.
It triggered a flurry of research across the world, an endorsement from Trump and emergency authorization from US regulators.
But other research has dealt a blow to the drug, with one Chinese trial last month finding it did not speed up the recovery of COVID-19 patients.
And New York researchers last week said patients got no benefits whether they took just the drug or paired it with the antibiotic azithromycin.
Leading doctors have warned the drug can cause severe side effects, and can even throw off the process that makes the heart beat in time.
One trial in Brazil was stopped short because so many of the enrolled coronavirus patients given the drug developed these arrhythmias.
The president has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine – used to treat malaria, lupus and other diseases – and the antibiotic azithromycin, often referred to as ‘Z-pack,’ to be used to treat the coronavirus.
Trump said he took one dose of the z-pack antibiotic and is now taking a zinc supplement along with a daily hydroxychloroquine pill. He noted he’s had no side effects.
“I’m taking the two – the zinc and the hydroxy,” he said. “So far I seem to be okay.”
“I have been taking it for about a week and a half,” he noted. “Every day. I take a pill every day.’
“At some point I’ll stop,” he added.
Hydroxychloroquine and coronavirus: What does the evidence say?
- Hydroxychloroquine – branded as Plaquenil – is a cheap drug that has been used as a prophylaxis against malaria for decades.
- But no evidence currently exists to show the drug can prevent patients being struck down with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
- Scientists also warn there is no proof hydroxychloroquine, which was touted as a wonder drug by Donald Trump and can be given to arthritis and lupus patients, can even treat COVID-19.
SO, WHAT HAVE THE STUDIES SHOWN?
INFECTED PATIENTS ‘GET NO BENEFIT FROM TAKING HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE’
- Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health looked at data from 1,438 COVID-19 patients across 25 hospitals in New York.
- The study, published in JAMA last month, was observational and looked at the outcomes of patients given different drug combinations.
- About 25 per cent of patients who received hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin – another promising coronavirus drug – died.
- In comparison, the rate was 20 per cent for those only given hydroxychloroquine alone and was 10 per cent for those on azithromycin.
90% OF CRITICAL PATIENTS GIVEN THE DRUG DEVELOP ARRHYTHMIAS
- Scientists in the US and France last month found 90 per cent of critically-ill COVID-19 patients given hydroxychloroquine developed heart arrhythmias.
- Massachusetts General Hospital researchers monitored 90 patients in intensive care units, while University of Lyon academics analysed 40 patients.
- Both uncovered similar results in JAMA Cardiology, after looking at the QT intervals – the time between the heart’s ventricular muscles contracting and then relaxing.
- When this interval becomes too long, the patient has developed a dangerous form of heart arrhythmia, called atrial fibrillation.
HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE MAY IMPAIR ABILITY OF IMMUNE SYSTEMS
- Hydroxychlorouquine may impair the ability of patients’ immune systems to fight off the infection, a review suggested at the start of April.
- Harvard scientists analyzed 10 studies as well as anecdotal reports from doctors that suggested the drug could help coronavirus patient.
- The review found many of the clinical trials were poorly conducted and anecdotal reports carried little weight.
HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE DOES NOT SPEED UP RECOVERY
- The antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine did not speed up coronavirus patients’ recovery in a trial in China, scientists revealed in April.
- In a disappointing blow for the promising drug, doctors said it did not work as a cure.
- Patients who were taking it suffered fewer symptoms than others who were treated alongside them without the medication but their recovery time was the same.
- They had tested hydroxychloroquine on 75 COVID-19 patients in hospitals and compared their illnesses to 75 patients who didn’t receive the drug.
MALARIA DRUG DOES IMPROVE SURVIVAL ODDS, PHYSICIANS CLAIM
- Hydroxychloroquine has improved the survival and recovery odds for about 90 per cent of patients treated, a physicians group claimed.
- The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) presented data on 2,333 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine.
- Results showed 91.6 per cent of those who got the controversial drug fared better after treatment, it was reported at the end of April.
COMBINING DRUG WITH DIET SUPPLEMENT COULD WORK BETTER
- Combining hydroxychloroquine with the dietary supplement zinc could create a more effective treatment for coronavirus patients, a study suggested last week.
- Researchers found taking the drugs together, along with the antibiotic azithromycin, increased patient’s chances of being discharged and decreased their risk of dying.
- It did not, however, change the average time patients spent in hospital, how long they spent on a ventilator or the total amount of oxygen required.
- The team, from New York University Grossman School of Medicine, says the findings are encouraging but that more studies are needed.
HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE COULD HELP TREAT PATIENTS, STUDY SAYS
- French researchers last month found hydroxychloroquine could treat coronavirus patients, sparking hope of a cure.
- Thirty patients were treated with hydroxychloroquine for 10 days, combined with azithromycin, an antibiotic.
- Although very small, the study ‘showed a significant reduction of the viral carriage’ after the six days.
- And results showed patients had a ‘much lower average carrying duration’ compared to patients who received other treatments.
- Several weeks later, the study’s publisher said the paper ‘did not meet its standards’ because it excluded data on patients who did not respond well to the treatment.