As per the current available data, benefits of anti-malarial drug Hydroxychroloquine (HCQ) "outweighs" the risks, if any, Niti Aayog member VK Paul said on Thursday, asserting it should be used as per guidelines and recommendations made by the scientific community.
The drug has been recommended by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) as prophylaxis for COVID-19 among healthcare and frontline workers, and also for clinical management of patients, he said.
Responding to a question over the government's stand on the use of HCQ in COVID-19 cases after the WHO temporarily suspended its use in the clinical trials citing safety concerns, Paul said it can be used as per the guidelines issued by the ICMR, taking all precautions as mentioned by the apex health research body.
"According to current available data and knowledge, the benefits of Hydroxychroloquine outweighs risks if any. We want it to be used as per guidelines and recommendations made by the scientific community," Mr Paul, who is also the chairman of Empowered Group-1, said.
He said that the World Health Organisation (WHO) was not the only platform where the drug was being tried. The medicine was being tried and looked at in several other countries as a potential treatment for COVID-19, Mr Paul said.
He said Hydroxychloroquine is a familiar drug and is widely used for malaria and in other auto-immune disease like rheumatoid arthritis.
It is produced in large quantities in the country, is inexpensive and has strong plausibility, he said, adding that research will reveal new things.
"And, we will get to know more about its effectiveness against the coronavirus as it a new virus. At this stage, whatever guidelines have been provided by the scientific community, we consider it appropriate and it should be used by healthcare workers and frontline workers as a preventive medication against the coronavirus infection as per the prescribed guidelines," Mr Paul said.
"The drug is also being used in clinical management of COVID-19 as per clinical protocol. As per the emerging relevant data we will keep advising further accordingly. Have faith, we are using it responsibly based on current available knowledge," he said.
Mr Paul said several other drugs favipiravir, itolizumab, phytopharmaceutical (a plant-based drug), convalescent plasma, remdesivir and the BCG vaccine are being looked at and are in advance stages of trials.
"Eight vaccine candidates in the world, of which four are in relatively advanced stages," he said
In response to a question on whether the novel coronavirus has mutated over the last few months, Principal Scientific Adviser K Vijay Raghavan said, "We have not seen any change in the fundamental properties of the virus till now."
Highlighting the importance of the RT-PCR test in detection of COVID-19, Mr Raghavan said it tests for the presence of the virus' genetic material.
"It is agnostic to whether you have symptoms or not. Even you are asymptomatic, if the virus is there in the body, the RT-PCR will pick it up with great likelihood," he said.
On Tuesday, DG ICMR Dr Balram Bhargava had said that no major side-effects of the anti-malarial drug Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) have been found in studies in India and its use can be continued as prophylaxis for COVID-19 under strict medical supervision.
He said it has been "clearly advised that HCQ should be taken with food, not on empty stomach".
"We also emphasized that one ECG should be done during the treatment. We expanded use of HCQ from healthcare workers to front-line workers also, considering the potential benefits," he added.
The ICMR in its revised advisory on May 22 recommended use of the drug as a preventive medication for COVID-19 for asymptomatic healthcare workers working in non-COVID hospitals and frontline staff on surveillance duty in containment zones and paramilitary/police personnel involved in coronavirus infection related activities.
The drug is also recommended for all asymptomatic healthcare workers involved in containment and treatment of COVID-19 and household contacts of laboratory confirmed cases.
The Union health ministry on March 31 in its "Clinical Management of COVID - 19'' had also recommended use of the drug Hydroxychloroquine in combination with Azithromycin on COVID-19 affected patients suffering with severe disease and requiring ICU management.