Several discovered “cures” for COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) have emerged in news stories over the past few days. Most recently, one of these coronavirus cures consists of a combination of a medicine commonly used to treat malaria and an anti-inflammatory drug.
Upon hearing the news, many citizens in Lebanon and across the globe rushed to their local pharmacies to purchase and stockpile the medicines, most without questioning their legitimacy. What are these medicines, and can they really be used in the fight against the pandemic?
The World Health Organization (WHO) previously released a statement affirming that they have not yet adopted a universal cure for the virus. WHO also advised individuals with symptoms against self-treatment, telling them to seek proper medical care.
Following the news, the Lebanese Ministry of Health requested that all pharmacies abstain from selling the medicine Dolquine, which contains a mixture of hydroxychloroquine and Nivaquine (a drug that contains chloroquine), except to those with a valid medical prescription. The Ministry also requested that citizens keep a copy of their prescriptions for future requests, in addition to asking businesses and warehouses to abstain from selling the medicine to local pharmacies without prior permission.
The warnings cited recent medical research that indicates that doubling the dosage of this medicine may cause severe side effects, or in worse cases, mortality. The medical research was conducted in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, where a group of individuals hit with COVID-19 were tested last February. Due to the results, Chinese doctors have abstained from using the medicine except in specific (mainly severe) cases.
The New York Times has also said that the panic-driven stockpiling has led to a shortage of chloroquine in the United States, which threatens the life of many citizens who use the medicine to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Other countries are also suffering from shortages.
As the world frantically looks for a cure to the Coronavirus, the question remains: What are other treatments that have been used on patients of COVID-19, and do they work?
Hydroxychloroquine & Chloroquine
These medicines have been used for centuries as a treatment for malaria, which mainly hits children. They have proven effective in the treatment and prevention of SARS, which also belongs to the coronavirus family.
Medical experts in the Ministry of Health have stated that these medicines are currently being used to treat the sick in Rafik Hariri University Hospital (RHUH).
Several studies are being conducted on the effectiveness and safety of using hydroxychloroquine in treating lung inflammation, which is a result of COVID-19. The results are expected to be released in August 2020.
Hydroxychloroquine with Azithromycin
At the end of last week, French researchers revealed that mixing Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin can prove effective in the treatment of COVID-19. The results are that of a study conducted on six individuals who were treated with the medicines. After six days of treatment, the patients tested negative for COVID-19.
In contrast, chloroquine alone cured 70 percent of the 20 patients it was given to in the same study. Side effects of the medicines however show that they may lead to irregular heartbeats, which could cause sudden death. This especially puts those who regularly consume other medications at risk, prompting warnings on consuming hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin.
Lopinavir and Ritonavir
This is commonly used in the treatment of HIV and SARS. It has yielded positive results in Thailand and Japan, where it was used to treat 135 patients who later showed lower rates of the virus in their systems.
In contrast, another study conducted in China on 200 people in critical conditions yielded no positive results.
This medicine is commonly used to treat Ebola, and it has proven effective in treating SARS and MERS, two viruses belonging to the coronavirus family. It is currently being used in the United States.
Other medicines usually used to help combat the symptoms of COVID-29 include high doses of Vitamin C. These medicines cannot be used as protection against the virus without a medical referral from a doctor specialized in the treatment of viruses.
The only protective measure against the virus is a vaccine, which has yet to be developed and cannot be given until it meets WHO’s criteria. Medical experts have been playing around with the idea of extracting white blood cells from individuals who have recovered from the coronavirus to develop a shot that can protect those who have not contracted the virus.
$8 Billion for the Coronavirus Response
At the present time, WHO is in need of $8 billion to develop effective vaccines and medicines to treat COVID-19 in due time. The organization is also in need of support to organize medical response teams to aid countries incapable of combating the virus alone, in addition to providing extra resources and supplies for medical workers internationally. Without these aids, medical workers and several third world countries will greatly suffer under the current pandemic.