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The ICMR bulletin on targeted hydroxychloroquine prophylaxis for Covid-19: Need to interpret with caution

Migita D’Cruz

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2020.040


The National Task Force for Covid-19 of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in a bulletin dated March 21, 2020 recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine for prophylaxis in asymptomatic health care workers caring for suspected or confirmed patients and household contacts of confirmed patients. This is cause for concern with regard to bioethics and good clinical practice. The evidence for the efficacy of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine is currently derived from open label trials and cell culture studies with no conclusive evidence available from randomised clinical trials. Hydroxychloroquine also carries contraindications in the case of conditions such as maculopathy, retinopathy and QTc prolongation and should be used with caution in vulnerable populations such as children, pregnancy, lactation and the elderly. Despite this, there has been a rush to procure and self-medicate with hydroxychloroquine, which has been addressed by the National Task Force. The WHO and the FDA have not found adequate evidence to recommend any specific medication for the treatment of Covid-19. While further evidence is awaited, including from trials registered with the FDA and the ICMR, it is recommended that the administration of hydroxychloroquine for chemo-prophylaxis be considered on a case by case basis with monitoring by a registered medical practitioner including electrocardiography (ECG). The potential for retinal and cardiac toxicity must also be borne in mind. It is further recommended that a public advisory regarding the need for caution in chemo-prophylaxis be made available in the public domain. Keywords: Coronavirus, Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine, chemoprophylaxis, bioethics, evidence- based medicine,

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