"Vital drug for people with lupus running out after unproven Covid-19 link "
"Italy and France now prescribing hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus despite fact its effectiveness is unknown."
A stampede for an unproven “cure” for Covid-19 is clearing the pharmacy shelves of a medicine that is vital for up to 5 million people around the world suffering from lupus, as countries bow to populist pressure and abandon the trials that would show whether hydroxychloroquine works against coronavirus infection.
Both Italy and France have said doctors can now prescribe hydroxychloroquine – a less toxic version of the malaria drug chloroquine – even though there is no robust evidence to prove that it is effective against Covid-19.
Popular pressure for access to the drug has been ramped up by pronouncements from presidents Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, both of whom have claimed it is a cure. An Australian businessman, the former politician Clive Palmer, has pledged to fund 1m doses “to ensure all Australians would have access to the drug as soon as possible”.
But the drug is already running out for people with lupus, a disorder of the immune system, who rely on it to stay well. Shortages are being reported from the UK to Thailand to France. India, which manufactures the raw ingredient, has banned all exports of the chemical to safeguard its own supplies and recommended all health workers to take the drug to protect themselves from the virus.
“We are incredibly concerned at the moment,” said Paul Howard of Lupus UK. “We started receiving inquiries from patients across the UK about a week ago. That’s been rapidly increasing – more and more people each day.”
For 90% of the more than 60,000 people in the UK with lupus, hydroxychloroquine is the mainstay of their treatment, preventing their immune system making too many antibodies, which can otherwise attack the body’s organs – mainly the kidneys and the skin, but also the heart, lungs and brain.
“Their local pharmacies don’t have any stocks available on the shelves,” said Howard. “They have no date for when they can expect stocks to arrive.”
There is no good alternative, he said. Other immunosuppressants have toxic side-effects and may put people at greater risk of Covid-19.
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