My access to hydroxychloroquine has been jeopardised since its rise to fame
How would you feel if a drug you rely on every day was being sold as a miracle cure for Coronavirus?
I take hydroxychloroquine daily to manage the symptoms of an autoimmune disease, as do many people who have Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis or other overlapping conditions. Since a small sample study by a “maverick” French doctor was brought to the attention of the global media, access to my medication has been jeopardised.
Donald Trump and Jair Bolsanaro have touted it as a potential miracle cure for Covid-19. India — the chief manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine — has banned exports of the drug, and other countries have followed suit. New York hospitals are using it to treat around 4,000 seriously ill patients, and further testing is being carried out from China to the EU.
When I first heard reports that I could already be on medicine that helps treat Covid-19, I couldn’t help feeling a bit relieved – how could I not, when I was being sold even the remote possibility of advance protection from the biggest public health crisis in a century?
But as the US reports shortages of hydroxychloroquine, and we start to see this replicated elsewhere, many of us are now faced with the prospect of personal health crises in the middle of a public health catastrophe.
Rheumatologists often prescribe hydroxychloroquine as a first-line treatment. Unlike immunosuppressive drugs, it doesn’t increase susceptibility to viral or bacterial illnesses.
If autoimmune disease sufferers can’t access hydroxychloroquine, we are likely to experience flares in our symptoms. Other treatment options are usually limited to immunosuppressants or steroids — both of which carry an increased risk of contracting Covid-19. This is a potentially deadly double bind: if we’re not careful, the rise of hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment could drive an increase in the number of people vulnerable to Covid-19.
Much like the arguments over its efficacy, this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be prescribed for Covid-19 at all. It might work; it might not. It might work sometimes and not others. In a pandemic, research has to happen on the go, and if it saves even a few lives then it will be worth it.
But we have to be sensible about how we do this. There’s been an understandable rise in people wanting to roll hydroxychloroquine out across the board immediately, even to take it preventatively — despite the fact there is no evidence this will work. There have even been reports of people trying to get prescriptions for it illegitimately.
On behalf of everyone who relies on hydroxychloroquine to stay healthy, please don’t try to take it if you don’t need to. Trust us — we and our health services will be better off for it.