Consumers warned not to use malaria drug for Covid-19

A packet of Nivaquine tablets that contain chloroquine, which has not been proven to combat Covid-19
A packet of Nivaquine tablets that contain chloroquine, which has not been proven to combat Covid-19

SA’s medicines regulator has warned consumers to stop buying an antimalaria drug in anticipation of Covid-19 infection, saying there is no evidence it combats the coronavirus.

The regulator also said stockpiling the drug could deprive patients in dire need of the product.

The call comes as the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in SA reached 554 on Monday and the global tally soared past 395,000.  

There are still no approved drugs to prevent or treat Covid-19, which is caused by the SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus.

But media reports of chloroquine being investigated as a potential therapy for the respiratory disease, along with widely reported comments by US President Donald Trump inaccurately describing it as showing “very encouraging results” have fuelled consumer interest around the globe.

On Sunday, a US man died after self-medicating with chloroquine and on Monday health officials in Nigeria sounded a warning after three people overdosed on the drug.

The SA Health Products Regulatory Authority said it had asked pharmacies to step up their management of products containing chloroquine to help curb stockpiling and ensure the drug remained available for patients who needed it.  

Chloroquine is no longer widely prescribed for preventing or treating malaria, but is still required in some cases, and is also used for treating severe rheumatoid arthritis.

“Medicine stockpiling by those who do not need chloroquine and other investigational treatments for Covid-19 could have important negative public health consequences including our ability to effectively respond to this international crisis,” the authority said on its website.

Pharmacy Council registrar Amos Masango said an official communique had been issued to pharmacies in support of the regulator’s statement, and pharmacists had been giving guidance on how to manage requests from consumers.

The Pharmaceutical Society of SA has also written to pharmacists, informing them that chloroquine has no proven benefit for Covid-19 and asking them to discourage patients from buying medicines in bulk.

“The bulk buying will cause unnecessary supply issues that could impact on the country’s ability to supply all patients with the medicines they need to stay healthy,” it said.

Chloroquine was among a raft of medicines being investigated as a potential therapy for Covid-19, along with the antiviral drug remdesivir, a combination of the HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir, the multiple-sclerosis drug interferon-beta and the immunosuppressive drug toculizumab, the health products regulator said.

So far most of the studies have been done in the laboratory, and there is little or no human data to indicate whether these drugs are safe and effective treatments for Covid-19.

The World Health Organisation launched an international study called the Solidarity Trial last week to investigate what it believes to be the four most promising candidate therapies for Covid-19 — remdesivir, chloroquine, the lopinavir/ritonavir combination alone or in combination with interferon.

Scientists are also hoping drugs such as these may protect health workers from infection. — BusinessLIVE