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Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee has issued a strong warning to local pharmacists to “act responsibly” when it comes to prescriptions relating to the drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.
The drugs, which are anti-malarials, are currently being tested internationally for effectiveness in the treatment of COVID-19. The medications have been showing preliminary positive results when used in combination with an antibiotic called azithromycin.
These findings are being investigated by the US Food and Drug Administration. Last week, US President Donald Trump endorsed the use of the drugs as a treatment for coronavirus.
However, Lee, speaking at Friday’s COVID-19 briefing, urged caution when it comes to dispensing the drugs locally as these immunosuppressants are used to treat patients with life-threatening conditions, like lupus (an auto-immune disease) and rheumatoid arthritis.
“Obviously, those are a critical, absolutely critical bunch, and they must have access to their regular supplies. What we don’t want to see is for prescriptions popping up for people who don’t currently have a need for it, that we really don’t want to see,” Lee said.
“But anybody who’s currently on that medication, and it’s … often for quite complex reasons that they’re on some sort of immunosuppression, they should remain on it.”
While research is pending on the efficacy of the anti-malarial drugs on COVID-19, the science on their impact on treating chronic auto-immune diseases has been widely established. These medications have been helpful in improving the longevity and quality of life for those struggling with debilitating conditions. In the case of lupus patients, the drugs prevent damage to vital organs.
Lee said since the reports broke about the use of the anti-malarials, he has received a lot of texts related to the medications as initial drug trials have shown some promise.
“In Cayman, whether they be pharmacists or doctors, please continue to act responsibly with regards to prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine because we may need [them]. We may need to preserve those stocks for use for people who are seriously unwell. So, please, act responsibly,” he said.
Lee said the Health Practice Commission is looking at the issue and has sent a similar correspondence to pharmacists.
While he did not say if there was anything in place to prevent the unscrupulous distribution of the drug, Lee said that a system has been enacted to protect the supplies.
“I can certainly say that, as far as the Health Services Authority is concerned, any new prescriptions for the drugs in question will need to go through the chief pharmacist,” he said.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that the US has “all but exhausted its supplies” of the two anti-malarial drugs.
Following Trump’s statement, Health Minister Dwayne Seymour said on Friday he spoke with the HSA and he was assured that Cayman has adequate supplies of the drug.
“We have a considerable amount, and more is on the way. Also, more has been ordered because of what we’ve seen. So, we’re on it,” he said.
The Post has said Novartis, the parent company of Sandoz, one of the manufacturers of the drugs, was prepared to donate 130 million doses of hydroxychloroquine worldwide by the end of May, “if its use is approved by governmental authorities”.
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