Mumbai: Healthcare workers and close contacts of infected patients admitted to quarantine facilities across the State will now be administered the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine sulphate (HCQS).
Around 7.14 lakh HCQS medicines have been accordingly distributed to 85 centres across Maharashtra. Health experts say although the drug has side effects, it can reduce the risk of contracting the COVID infection.
The Maharashtra government has issued a notification that HCQS be given to all frontline warriors who are in close contact with Covid-positive patients. It is being given as prophylaxis to frontline healthcare workers and the police force. In hospitals, it is used to treat patients with mild Covid-19 symptoms.
Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani said the decision was taken on the basis of available information and recommendations made by the task force and the Directorate of Medical Education and Research.
The directives were to administer the medication strictly to persons in specific categories only, namely, asymptomatic positive patients and health workers in close contact with positive patients, he said. Last Friday, the first dose was administered to asymptomatic positive patients in quarantine centres, such as those in Dharavi, as well as to high-risk contacts.
HCQS will be given to Covid-19 positive cases and contacts admitted in Covid-care centres, except for children under 15 years of age, pregnant women, cancer patients or patients on chemotherapy or undergoing TB treatment. Moreover, patients with heart disease, diabetes and blood diseases should not take the medicine without consulting doctors, reads the circular.
Many experts have, however, raised the issue of 'fatal cardiac toxicity' linked to HCQS use. “As a preventive drug, the clinical evidence is even thinner. Besides, there are real safety issues around the use of chloroquine and reports of fatal cardiac toxicity.
There is just not enough evidence available to make an informed decision. In our haste to be seen to be doing something, we must not end up doing more harm,” said an expert.
“Although there is no randomised clinical trial to show the efficacy of HCQS against Covid as the virus is barely a few months old, it could be the best method for viral clearance,” he added.
All medication is to be taken with meals or milk and health officers have been asked to verify whether patients are on other medication before putting them on HCQS doses, to prevent adverse drug reactions. All doses are to be given under medical supervision.