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Anti-malarial drug vanishes from medical stores

By Our Correspondent
March 22, 2020

After US President Donald Trump claimed a few days back that an anti-malarial drug could be used for the treatment for COVID-19, the drug -- Chloroquine Phosphate or Hydroxychloroquine -- has either vanished from the pharmacies in Karachi or being sold at exorbitant rates, The News has learnt.

A survey of various pharmacies in Karachi has revealed that the drug, which is prescribed by family physicians and doctors for the treatment of malaria, is either not available or is being sold at exorbitant rates.

Pharmacies’ owners claim that either the drug is not being supplied by pharmaceutical companies or being supplied in very limited quantities, resulting in a shortage and increased prices.

“For the last few days, anti-malarial drug Chloroquine Phosphate or Hydroxychloroquine is either not available at the pharmacies or is being sold at exorbitant rates. Local and multinational companies that manufacture this drug are not supplying it to the market while suppliers have started hoarding,” said Abdus Samad Budhani, representative of the Pakistan Chemists and Druggists Association, while talking to The News on Friday.

Budhani maintained that following US President Donald Trump’s mentioning of Chloroquine Phosphate and Hydroxychloroquine as the potential drugs for the treatment of COVID-19, people in Karachi had started panic buying of the drug. He added that companies that manufacture this drug were only supplying it to the hospitals while pharmacies of facing an acute shortage of the drug.

He said provincial drug administration should take stock of the situation and prevent its stockpiling and hoarding by the suppliers, while if the drug is being at higher prices, action should be initiated against sellers.

Eminent health specialist Prof Dr Tahir Shamsi told The News that the US president probably asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to look into the possibility of using the anti-malarial drug on COVID-19 patients after Chinese found it effective in patients infected with coronavirus. He added that experts and institutions were looking to experiment the drug to see if it was as effective as claimed by the Chinese.

“Chinese experimented with everything that came into their minds for treatment of patients infected with coronavirus, and two of the therapies, including the use of Choloroquine and passive immunization, worked really well for them. Now the entire world is trying to follow the Chinese experiments,” he added.

Renowned pharmacist Yasir Hashmi said people were using the anti-malarial drug as an over the counter drug to prevent and treat coronavirus. He added that regulatory authorities should ensure that this drug remained a prescription medicine and only taken on the advice of doctors.

“Chloroquine is an important drug and it is used to treat malaria, which is a fatal disease. Its overdose can result in serious complications, while its absence from the market can result in deaths due to malaria, which is a very common disease,” Yasir Hashmi added.