It has been more than a month since 10,000 Mumbai Police officers were put on an eight-week dose of Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), and while they are not being monitored for its impact or otherwise, some officers on the regimen say it is helping them “psychologically”.
The drug, which has been pushed by US President Donald Trump as a “game changer” in the fight against Covid-19, is in demand in many parts of the world. But its efficacy is still being clinically tested. Scientists wary of its publicised side effects have warned against mass consumption of HCQ while asking those taking it to do so after consulting doctors.
In India, the ICMR has allowed it to be prescribed to all healthcare workers on Covid-19 duty, and asymptomatic household contacts of the infected.
In the last week of April, a Maharashtra government notification had prescribed the drug under strict monitoring for health workers and staffers, civic workers as well as people involved in handling quarantine centres, infected patients and containment zones.
The Mumbai Police put its personnel on HCQ at the beginning of April when Covid-19 cases started surfacing among personnel deployed on bandobast duty, well before ICMR’s advisory.
Police Commissioner Parambir Singh said, “We have provided HCQ dosages to our policemen and if others are willing to take it, then further dosages will be provided to them.”
However, the city police does not have a system in place yet to monitor the medicine’s effects on its personnel. Police surgeon Dr S M Patil said he did not know that police personnel have been put on HCQ. “No advice was taken from me,” he said.
The Indian Express spoke to15 police personnel, six of whom had not consulted a doctor before taking HCQ, though they were advised to do so. Until now, only four have been following up with their personal physician to monitor its effect. The BMC, on the other hand, is carrying out an assessment study of doctors, nurses and paramedics who are on HCQ in Sion hospital. “We are doing a weekly assessment of health workers who took the medicine to analyse if it prevents Covid-19 infection and if there are any side effects,” a doctor said.
By the time the state notification came out, making a doctor’s assessment mandatory, ECG if required, and strict monitoring of those taking the pill, many Mumbai Police personnel had already finished two doses of HCQ. The notification also mandated that those with diabetes, heart ailment, high blood pressure must undergo required tests before taking the drug.
Private surgeon Dr Sanjay Kapote, who runs Apollo clinic in Colaba, and on whose advice the Mumbai Police decided to give its personnel HCQ, said he started consulting with the police for Covid-19 in March. He added that while he provided an advisory giving detailed instructions to consult a doctor and conduct an ECG test before taking the medicine, he did not individually track the officers. “I will assess their health after six weeks. The drug has been prescribed for eight weeks. They can call me if there is any concern,” Kapote said.
He said there were a few known side effects of HCQ. “We first arranged for 10,000 tablets, and later for 5,000 more.” Kapote added: “When a team from Union government recently visited Mumbai, the members had verbally told the commissioner that HCQ can be given to police as they are frontline workers.”
In Mumbai, 538 policemen have contracted Covid-19 and eight have died. A senior officer said that of the nine policemen from Wadala police station who tested positive on April 30, eight constables had already taken a two-week dose of HCQ when they were found to be infected.
Dr Subhash Salunkhe, technical advisor on Covid-19 to the state chief secretary, said there is a need for technical exclusion criteria, proper monitoring and expert advice from medical education or public health departments on the use of HCQ as preventive therapy. “If we administer it to a large number of people, we have to be careful. It is not a drug that can be taken lightly,” he added.
BMC’s Additional Municipal Commissioner Suresh Kakani, however, said only those with heart problems, renal ailment or health complications need to consult a doctor before taking HCQ.
Of the 15 police officers The Indian Express contacted, 10 said it gave them a psychological lift. A 55-year-old inspector in the eastern suburbs said, “It is a psychological game. If anyone thinks that he will get infected, then he will. I don’t think that way, so I have just taken the medicine.” A 56-year-old inspector in the western suburbs said: “After taking this medicine, the fear of (catching the infection while enforcing lockdown in) slums goes away.”
Still, others had faith that if the medicine had been prescribed by the police department, or by their “seniors”, it must have some beneficial properties. “There are major containment zones in my area, but the disease has not affected me so far, so it must be having an impact,” said an inspector from the central region.
Doctors warn that unless those taking HCQ are educated properly about it, taking it could lead to a false sense of confidence about one’s own immunity. General physician Dr Shahid Barmare said, “Since efficacy of this drug is not known, no one should take it thinking it will protect them. There is no replacement for a protective equipment, it provides maximum safeguard.”
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