A Malaria drug to cure coronavirus? The story of Trump, Modi, and Hydroxychloroquine
What is hydroxychloroquine -- the magic drug that is being repeatedly touted as the solution to prevent the coronavirus spread? And how will it re-shape the political landscape in USA and India?
The United States of America has come under severe criticism of late for its delayed and ineffective battle to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading across the country. The superpower nation has become an epicentre for COVID-19 with over one lakh positive cases and is seemingly out of ideas on how to control the problem.
But President Donald Trump, who has been blamed for not taking the virus seriously, has a solution to the coronavirus problem -- hydroxychloroquine (HCQ).
Hydroxychloroquine (C18H26ClN3O) is a medication used to prevent and treat malaria in areas. The drug, which is taken orally as pills, is also used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. President Trump has repeatedly called it a “game-changer” in the fight against COVID-19.
But to Trump's dismay, India has India banned all exports of hydroxychloroquine. Bloomberg, on Sunday, reported that the exports of the drug and its formulations have been prohibited “without any exceptions” and with immediate effect by India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade. The country's trade regulator had last month restricted overseas shipments of the drug, allowing only limited exceptions such as on humanitarian grounds and for meeting prior commitments.
Trump is NOT a doctor.— Peter Morley (@morethanmySLE) April 6, 2020
But I AM a patient with Lupus on #Hydroxychloroquine
Stockpiling 29M dosages of this medication with no proven efficacy means that many, like myself, who NEED this daily will suffer.
You do NOT have to be a doctor to know that.????pic.twitter.com/evJDMF3oJ4
India, where Malaria still wreaks havoc on a regular basis, is amongst the largest producers of the drug. But the sudden ban reflects the country's rising apprehension over the spread of the COVID-19, with many experts believing that parts of the country have already shown signs of community transmission.
On Saturday, Trump said he had a word with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and appealed for the release of shipments U.S. has already ordered. While there have been no studies to prove Hydroxychloroquine's effect on coronavirus, Trump has constantly used the drug to salvage his fast-diminishing popularity amongst Americans.
Even though PM Modi remains popular in India, there is a serious fear within his camp that a fast-spreading virus can derail his image. So far the Prime Minister's rallying calls to battle the virus, including banging plates and lighting torches, have been received positively by the vast majority of Indians. But with the slow testing rates and a large informal sector rendered unemployed, the patience is running thin.
The Hydroxychloroquine drug could therefore potentially be a "game-changer" for PM Modi as well. Unlike the USA, India produces the drug abundantly, so distributing the drug as a preventive mechanism might work in India and PM Modi's favour.
There is no scientific evidence that hydroxychloroquine can treat the coronavirus infection, and it hasn't been approved by any international standard administration. But like Trump said on Saturday -- "What do you have to lose? Take it" -- can be the mantra for Indians in the coming days.
But there is a catch. According to Forbes, researchers have warned that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and chloroquine (CQ) may be deadly when combined with a common diabetes drug.
The new study was published, on Sunday, on scientific pre-print server BioRxiv and shows that 30-40% of mice treated with a combination of HCQ or CQ and diabetes drug metformin, died. Treatment with the same dose of either drug alone had no effect on the survival of the mice.
It means ill-advised consumption of medicine can lead to death. In the event of a pandemic where panic is on an all-time high, this could lead to trouble. Especially in a country where even the government has been accused of peddling with fake news.
But this information is unlikely to deter the politically powerful who have been constantly looking for shortcuts to evade tougher questions on lack of preparedness for a virus that first emerged in late 2019. The hydroxychloroquine may or may not be the answer to our fight against coronavirus. But it certainly will occupy a big space in political conversations in the recent future.