The lives of at least 1.3 million people with arthritis and autoimmune diseases may be in a great danger as the government as well as panicked people stockpiled the medicines they use as potential COVID-19 cure.
The mad rush for malaria drugs chloroquine and hyrdoxychloroquine has been reported in Bangladesh like in many other countries after US president Donald Trump touted the medicines as ‘game changer’ coronavirus drug.
Although authorities such as the US Food and Drug Administration or the WHO has not yet approved the drugs for treating the new viral disease and experts are sceptical about them being effective at all they have been sold out in Bangladesh.
New Age spent last five days looking in vain for the medicines in pharmacies in parts of the capital, including Elephant Road, New Market, Malibagh, Hatirpool, Badda, Rampura and Agargaon.
‘Our supply of chloroquine and hyrdoxychloroquine was sold out immediately after America announced the invention of coronavirus medicine,’ said Mokter Ahmed, a drug seller at Mankind Pharma on Eskaton Road.
Reports of the antimalarial medicine stocks running out at pharmacies across Bangladesh came with the number of coronavirus positive patient rising to 48 on Friday.
Drug Administration director general Mahbubur Rahman said that the government stocked up on the medicines as many countries found promising results in treating the new disease with the drugs.
‘We are making sure that all government hospitals have a supply of the medicines,’ said Mahbub.
State-owned Central Medical Stores Depot is procuring all antimalarial drug produced by a 2nd company, he said.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University’s virology professor Saif Ullah Munshi said that nobody should get overexcited about these drugs.
‘The effectiveness of the drugs curing the disease caused by the novel coronavirus is not yet proved,’ he said.
A sudden shortage in supplies of the malaria medicines, which are in widespread use in treating other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases, may create a fresh health crisis, said Saif.
‘These are also lifesaving drugs for SLE patients,’ BSMMU rheumatology department chairman Professor Minhaj Rahim Choudhury said.
SLE is an autoimmune disease, a health condition in which body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, affecting lives of at least a lakh people, said Minhaj.
SLE patients are required to take the antimalarial drugs every day in absence of which they can die, he said.
Bangladesh Association of Pharmaceutical Industries adviser Momenul Haq said that many of the 15 companies recently permitted to produce the drugs took initiatives to ramp up their productions.
Chloroquine is considered highly toxic while hydroxychloroquine is relatively safe with fewer side effects, according to experts.
The side effects include reduced heart rates and blood pressure, chest pain, headache, muscular weakness, retinal damage and sudden fall in blood sugar level.
The US president Donald Trump last week and early this week said that the drugs could be a ‘game changer’ in the fight against coronavirus.
The French study that the US president relied on for making the statement was conducted on 26 patients.
Of the patients, six received the drug in combination with azithromycin, an antibiotic. The six patients appeared to have cleared viruses from their bodies.
Bloomberg quoted David Ho, an AIDS researcher based at Columbia University, as saying that the treatment did not appear to actually make a difference in whether patients lived or got better.
‘Patients may have recovered on their own,’ Bloomberg quoted the researcher as saying.
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