A pharmacy employee shows a box of Plaquenil (chloroquine) in Paris, France, March 27 2020. Picture: CHESNOT/ GETTY IMAGES
A pharmacy employee shows a box of Plaquenil (chloroquine) in Paris, France, March 27 2020. Picture: CHESNOT/ GETTY IMAGES

A few days ago SA Health Products Regulatory Authority CEO Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela told doctors to stop the “irrational prescribing of chloroquine”. This was a reasonable warning after it was widely reported that pharmacists were running out of chloroquine.

Though at the time chloroquine was one of several promising drugs under review for the treatment of Covid-19 — in addition to Kaletra, interferon  alfa-2b, Remdesivir and Lopinavir-ritonavir — according to the World Health Organisation chloroquine was not yet licensed as a treatment.

Chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine have been shown to inhibit Sars-CoV-2 in vitro and has been part of treatment guidelines of the China National Health Commission.  Unfortunately it is premature to declare it effective, and will be until all the data supporting these claims is available. There is still an issue of side effects and toxicity.

In China it has been used in severe cases in a hospital setting, but has anything changed since the statement was issued that we can now safely use chloroquine in SA? Was the HPCSA wrong? What if doctors want to add Lopinavir-ritonavir to the treatment regimen? Who is clinically in charge of Covid-19 treatment, the politicians or scientists? 

Dr Lucas Ntyintyane
Via e-mail