Health minister on the phone to source hydroxychloroquine

Health minister Greg Hunt claims to have intervened personally to source additional supplies of hydroxychloroquine from an overseas manufacturer for use in Australian trials of COVID-19 disease.

The minister told Channel Nine on 3 April that he had “just come off a call with an international supplier” to have 2000 courses of the sought-after drug imported into Australia.

“I’m confident we will have a significant supply of hydroxychloroquine, which will be available, if doctors wish to use them with patients who are in hospital. Those are the terms,” he said.

When asked if hydroxychloroquine was a cure for COVID-19 he said it was not fully proven but there had been some promising trials around the world

“The advice from the supplier and the two Australian scientific groups I’ve spoken to is that they are cautiously hopeful that it can have an impact. It’s not a perfect cure, it’s not a perfect prevention,” he said.

“It will now be a matter, once we have these stocks arrive, for the individual doctors and hospital systems to determine whether it’s appropriate, whether they believe it’s safe.

“But there are multiple trials going on around Australia: vaccines, preventions and treatments. The treatments, there’s very important work going on in Australia at the University of Queensland, the Doherty Institute, the CSIRO, Monash University, the University of Melbourne. There are some early, promising signs, [but] a long way to go.”

Meanwhile, an international group of rheumatologists have written an editorial discouraging the off-label use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) for COVID-19 until more data is available and supplies are replenished.

Writing on behalf of the recently formed COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Alliance the authors stressed that while there was scientific rationale to justify the investigation of the efficacy and safety of HCQ in hospitalized patients with COVID-19, there was currently no data to recommend its use prophylactically.

The authors noted the trial by Gautret and colleagues [see study here] that first sparked interest in the antimalarial had several limitations that were ignored by the lay press and subsequently amplified on social media and endorsed by world leaders.

A major consequence has been global shortages of HCQ for patients in whom efficacy of HCQ is established.

“Hydroxychloroquine is an essential treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and of systemic lupus erythematosus, reducing flares and preventing organ damage in the latter disease…shortages could place these patients at risk for severe and even life-threatening flares; some may require hospitalization when hospitals are already at capacity,” they wrote in an ‘ideas and opinions’ piece published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“We discourage its off-label use until justified and supply is bolstered. The HCQ shortage not only will limit availability to patients with COVID-19 if efficacy is truly established but also represents a real risk to patients with rheumatic diseases who depend on HCQ for their survival,” they concluded.

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