COVID-19: Gujarat govt issues warning as people stock hydroxychloroquine

State has stockpiled over one crore shots of the drug as it is touted as game-changer in fight against coronavirus

Though hydroxychloroquine has been around for decades, its demand increased after US President Donald Trump requested India to allow its export to America to treat COVID-19 patients. Photo: iStock

Days after India began shipping hydroxychloroquine to the US, people in Gujarat have been stocking up the anti-malarial drug that is being touted as a game-changer in the fight against coronavirus. This has prompted the state government to warn people against its health hazards and direct chemists not to sell the drug over the counter.

Though hydroxychloroquine has been around for decades, its demand increased after US President Donald Trump requested India, which is the largest manufacturer of the drug, to allow its export to America to treat COVID-19 patients.

“We have come to know that people were rushing to medical stores to buy hydroxychloroquine after it came in news and was also mentioned as an effective medicine by US President Trump for those infected with COVID-19,” said Gujarat Food and Drug Control Authority Commissioner HG Koshia.

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It has come to light that many people have been taking the medicine or stocking it due to the coronavirus fear, he said. “This is a scheduled H drug, which can be sold by chemist on a prescription of a registered medical practitioner. It is not in the interest of normal people to take the scheduled H drug if they do not have COVID-19 symptoms, he added.

This type of self-medication can cause harm and side effects if not taken under proper care of doctors, he warned. “Therefore, we have advised people not to take the medicine without the prescription of doctors. We have also asked chemists not to sell the drug to patients coming without the doctors prescription,” the official said.

Chemists have been asked to maintain a register of purchase and sale of the drug, which they have to do for all the scheduled H drugs, he said. A chemist in Ahmedabad said many people have been coming to his store asking for hydroxychloroquine, but he sells it only to those who have a proper prescription.

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Koshia said the Gujarat government has enough stock of the medicine, but has issued an advisory so that there is no shortage of the drug in the open market. “If everybody starts stocking or consuming the drug, it will create a shortage in the market, he said.

The Gujarat government stockpiled over one crore shots of the medicine as it became clear that this can be a useful medicine against coronavirus, he said, adding that the drug is manufactured in a large quantity in the state.

“The Food and Drug Control Authority of Gujarat has given approval to 28 companies to produce hydroxychloroquine. Of these, three companies produce active drug ingredients, which are the raw material for the production of the medicine,” he said, adding that Gujarat will not face its shortage.

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Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani recently said three companies from the state have been asked to produce hydroxychloroquine to export it to the US, after Trump asked the Indian government for its supply. On the effectiveness of the drug in the fight against coronavirus, Koshia said some studies, especially in France, say that it works.

“The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has recommended that this drug should be given to frontline health workers who are involved in treating those suffering from COVID-19, he said.

Earlier, India had banned the export of the drug, after it was found that it can be key to the treatment of COVID-19. However, after requests from Trump and other countries, the export curbs were partially lifted.