Monday, March 23, 2020
Yorkshire, England
COVID-19 pandemic and the use of Chloroquine:
Message to Fellow Nigerians!

he coronavirus infection that started in a Chinese city of Wuhan last December is now spreading like wild fire across most countries in the world. The rate of spread is unimaginable, likewise the death toll on its part.

Panicking and fear are expected reactions to this strange illness that is taking the world by storm. It is more particularly so when common men and women keep hearing mixed messages from different sources around the globe. The internet as useful as it is has also become veritable means by which others spread unfounded rumours and misinformation. This has added to the already tensed situation on ground and the level of anxiety in people.

Politicians around the world that citizens naturally look up to for precise and specific information have also failed woefully to deliver much needed advice that would calm down nerves in these extraordinary times. Little wonder then that people now resort to different means of getting information.

From Europe to America, to Middle East, to Asia, the story has been the same. When people fail to get the right information from the right source, they fall back on the internet where truth, half-truth and outright lie exist.

The fact is nobody knows all the facts about the COVID-19 infection. A lot has been said that it is a hoarse from one country. Others have also said it is a genetically programmed disease by another country to teach a particular country bitter lessons, while most people still believe it is a real natural illness in the pattern of previous outbreaks.

The world has witnessed several outbreaks in the past. The Spanish flu and Swine flu pandemics are clear examples.

The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic, ravaged the entire world during 1918-1919. It is estimated that about 500 million people became infected with the virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide.

The most recent was the Swine flu pandemic which occurred between the spring of 2009 and the spring of 2010 The virus infected as many as 1.4 billion people across the globe and killed between 151,700 and 575,400 people, according to the Centers for Disease Protection and Control (CDPC).

Like other pandemics in the past, COVID-19 will eventually pass with time. How long would this take and how many lives would be lost are difficult things to predict at this stage.

As at today, no medication has been approved for the treatment or the prevention of COVID-19. Therefore rumours about any form of medication like chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and others as been recommended is incorrect.

During one of his regular news briefings on COVID-19, President Donald Trump did mention that chloroquine has been approved for the treatment of coronavirus. His words, "We're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately. And that's where the FDA has been so great. They've gone through the approval process - it's been approved." This is incorrect and unfortunate but didn't come as a surprise to many knowing the antecedents of this president on weighty matters of this magnitude.

The FDA which Mr Trump quoted above has made it clear it has not approved choloroquine for treating those infected with the COVID-19. The statements say, "There are no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent COVID-19." However, the FDA does say that studies are under way to see if chloroquine can be effective in the treatment of COVID-19.

To add to this confusion was the explanation given by the respected Director General of NAFDAC, Professor Mojisola Adeyeye during Journalist Hangout of TVC television last week. While a lot of professionals in the field would understand her view standpoint, majority of viewers took it that she had approved the use of choloroquine for use in COVID-19.

This has led to people rushing to chemists to buy chloroquine. There are several reports of chloroquine toxicities that have presented in hospitals due to indiscriminate use. Chloroquine though around for several years for the treatment of malaria is a dangerous medication especially when taken in overdose or with certain underlying health conditions. This is why people have to be careful using this medication without prescription.

The evidence about the use of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for the prevention or treatment of CODV-19 is at best anecdotal and based on limited in-vitro studies (these are studies in the laboratory). Anecdotal evidence are based on individual accounts, rather than on reliable research or statistics, and so may not be valid. Even though several countries have been using these medications for treating hospitalised COVID-19 patients, it's yet to gain proper approval as the ideal treatment or prevention for this disease. Hence drawing far reaching conclusion this way is not right.

Studies are ongoing in several nations of the world to unravel appropriate vaccines, prevention and treatment for this deadly virus.

While the world is waiting for this much-needed breakthrough, there are some things we can all do to ensure our personal safety and of those around us especially the vulnerable people amongst us. No cure exists for this disease. The treatment so far is symptomatic and supportive. This means when have fever, you take paracetamol or ibuprofen as the case may be.

The suggested measures listed below still remain the best form of prevention against this nefarious disease.

  • Hand washing

  • Use of alcohol gel for hands cleaning in case there is no access to hand washing facilities

  • Avoiding hugging and kissing

  • Cough onto your arm/elbow and not your hands

  • Avoid unnecessary touching of eyes, noses and mouth. These are easy entry ports of the virus into the body

  • Social distancing by maintaining distance of about 3 meters from others

  • Avoid unnecessary travel at this time

  • Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated

  • Vulnerable people should stay at home as long as this last as they could develop worse outcomes should they be infected

  • Self isolate for 14 days when a family member display symptoms

  • Contact designated phone numbers or your doctor if your symptoms get worse following isolation.

The issue of panic buying of chloroquine should not arise as it has not been fully tested to confirm its full efficacy against this virus. You could suffer serious health outcomes if you take medications not particularly recommended for an ailment.

Remember, majority of those infected would survive the disease. Those that could have more serious health outcomes are the elderlies, those with medical conditions like diabetes mellitus, heart failure, asthma, COPD, cancer, immune disorders to mention but a few. These are the people that require our care the most.

Let us all keep safe!