Trump taking HCQ as COVID-19 preventive despite US controversy

Dr Fauci speaks to US President Donald Trump during a tour of the National Institutes of Health. Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

New York, May 19 (IANS) US President Donald Trump has said that he is taking hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as a preventive for COVID-19 and dismissed controversies in the US around its use saying, “I’m still here”.

“A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it. I’ve heard a lot of good stories,” he told reporters on Monday in Washington.

With the media rife with stories about what are said to be its dangers and criticism of Trump for advocating the drug’s use, he said: “I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this. When I announced this. Yeah, I’ve taken it for 1 and a half weeks now. And I’m still here. I’m still here.”

HCQ has been caught in the vortex of political polarisation because Trump had advocated it and Democratic Party leaders immediately criticised him for taking it.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Party leader in the Senate accused him on MSNBC of giving false hopes and said: “It is just dangerous what he did.”

Trump said that he had asked the White House doctor to prescribe it for him to ward off the coronavirus and the physician said in a statement that they agreed “the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks”.

He is tested daily for COVID-19 and has repeatedly shown to be free of it.

“I’ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it is not good, I will tell you right. I’m not going to get hurt by it. It has been around for 40 years for malaria, for lupus, for other things. I take it,” the President said.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) National Task Force on COVID-19 has recommended that healthcare workers and others caring for coronavirus patients use HCQ as a preventive.

ICMR Director-General Balram Bhargava said early last month: “Hydroxychloroquine is recommended only for a healthcare worker who is treating a COVID-19 patient.

“Secondly, it’s recommended only for persons staying with and caring for a household patient who has been tested positive. They can take that only for prophylaxis – only for prevention.”

HCQ is widely used in India to both prevent and treat malaria.

Trump began promoting HCQ on March 19 and later he tweeted about a combination of HCQ and azithromycin to treat COVID-19.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency authorisation for HCQ use.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, obtained the drug for use in the state, which is the epicentre of the pandemic in the US.

On Monday night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, told CNN about Trump: “I would rather he not be taking something that has not been approved by the scientists, especially in his age group and in his, shall we say, weight group, morbidly obese, they say.”

Apparently Bhargava is not considered a scientist.

Trump had personally requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to relax the ban on HCQ export and allow India to export doses ordered before the COVID-19 pandemic.

India agreed and sent the US 3.5 million tablets and nine tonnes of ingredients to manufacture it.

The controversy in the US is over HCQ’s side effect of abnormal heart rhythms and dangerously rapid heart rate in some patients. Doctors prescribe it only after considering the heart condition of the patient.

The FDA has directed that it should, therefore, be used only under medical supervision.

HCQ’s risks received further attention from a study by University of Virginia researcher Jayakrishna Ambati that the risk of death was found to be higher in former servicemen suffering from COVID-19 who were treated with it compared to those who were not.

Other studies like one in France have shown that HCQ helped patients with COVID-19.

In Kiryas Joel in New York State a doctor has reported that if patients are treated in the early stages with a combination of HCQ, zinc and an anti-biotic, according to CBS New York

Vladimir Zelenko told the station that only two of the 400 patients he treated with the combination had died.

Cardiologist Avni Thakore is now leading a study of Zelenko’s prescription.

She told CBS: “What we know about the mechanism of action of the drugs suggests they could be helpful early in the course of a viral infection.”

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