What’s The Deal With Hydroxychloroquine?

Pharmacy Monaco

Photo: Forbes Monaco

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Monaco continue to rise, currently at 33, including one recovery, the National Council has asked the government to authorize doctors in the Principality to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus patients.

“In the context of this serious health crisis, everything must be done today to save lives,” they appealed via Facebook yesterday.

Both chloroquine and its related compound hydroxychloroquine have been making headlines in France. While chloroquine is used for the prevention and treatment of certain types of malaria, hydroxychloroquine is typically used to treat lupus, an auto-immune disease, and other chronic ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis.

On March 16, Professor Didier Raoult, a leading specialist in infectious diseases at the University Hospital of Marseille, revealed 25 of his patients had been treated with hydroxychloroquine. “After six days, only one in four still had the virus in their body, whereas 90% of patients who had not taken the drug were still infected,” he claimed.

However, Professor Bernard Bégaud of Bordeaux University Pharmacology Unit was cautious of the results. “There is always a desire to skip stages in the testing procedure for drugs,” he said. “Chloroquine is not a harmless drug.”

Still Raoult’s results led to a surge in demand at pharmacies for hydroxychloroquine, sold under the name Plaquénil.

“We’ve also witnessed a spike in the number of prescriptions for the drug,” Philippe Besset of FSPF, the representative body of French pharmacists, told France 24.

He added, “Both the package leaflet for hydroxychloroquine and the guidelines issued by the [French] drugs watchdog detail the frequent side-effects associated with its use, such as deteriorating eyesight, nausea and digestive disorders. More rarely—and far more dangerously—they can lead to heart failure.”

Carine Wolf-Thal, president of the French Chamber of Pharmacists, explained, “If the drug is prescribed in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the prescription is issued under the doctor’s responsibility and must be labeled as such.”

“For patients who suffer from mild forms of Covid-19, accounting for 85% of cases, paracetamol will suffice. There is no need to expose them to the risks and side-effects of chloroquine,” she added.

French health minister Olivier Véran has tightened regulations on sales of chloroquine and its related compounds. On Monday he announced that the drugs “can only be used in test trials or in hospital care.”