NEW DELHI: Some health care workers in India who self-medicated themselves with anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine have shown side effects like abdominal pain, nausea and hypoglycemia among others, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said on Saturday.
Head of Epidemiology and Communicable diseases at ICMR Raman R Gangakhedkar said the ICMR has launched a study on side effects of HCQ using data of some health care workers who had started taking it.
"The average age of such health workers is 35 years. The most visible side effect was that of abdominal pain which was reported in ten per cent of all those who consumed the medication while nausea-like symptoms were reported in 6 per cent.
"A fewer proportion -- around 1.3 per cent -- had hypoglycaemia," Gangakhedkar said.
He said that the study so far has revealed that 22 per cent of these health care workers who consumed HCQ had existing co-morbidities like diabetes or blood pressure problems or vascular-related ailments or respiratory illnesses and they started taking the drug out of fear of contracting the disease.
"What has come to fore is that despite they being health care workers, 14 per cent of them did not even got their ECG checked before having it," Gangakhedkar said.
He further informed that AIIMS is conducting studies on assessing both prophylactic and therapeutic impact of HCQ on COVID-19, i.e. the ability of the drug for both prevention and healing.
"We need to understand that at many places health care workers out of fear are trying to take this medicine and in some places, the consumption is not that high so it impacts the study design and collection of data. We are facing difficulty in finding a homogenous population," the scientist said.
He underlined that even health care workers should consume the drug after proper consultation with doctors.
Gangakhedkar further said that the ICMR has also initiated a separate study to find out the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine as preventive medicine for COVID-19 in which around 480 patients will be enrolled and studied for eight weeks.
The ICMR has earlier recommended the use of drug as a preventive medication to health care workers and household contacts looking after a positive case.
Besides, the Union Health Ministry has also recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine in combination with Azithromycin on those severely suffering from COVID-19 who require ICU management.
"But then one should take it only if prescribed by a physician as the drug has side effects," the official had said.
Responding to a question over antiviral medication Remdesivir, Gangakhedkar said the drug which was used during the Ebola outbreak may inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 replication and research on its efficacy in the treatment of COVID-19 is a part of the WHO's 'solidarity trial.'
"Recently reported study on use of remdesivir for COVID-19 treatment is not a clinical trial, but an observational study which found that 68 per cent or two out of three patients after treatment with the drug did not require ventilator support or their need for oxygen support reduced, " he said.
"However, while the manufacturer Gilead Sciences says that it is likely to be beneficial, data on the interim analysis being done by them is not yet available," Gangakhedkar said.
If Remdesivir is found to be effective two-three weeks down the line, we can either do patent pooling because its a pandemic or see if some local company can manufacture it, he said adding Remdesivir, developed by Gilead Sciences Inc is not presently available in the country.