The Drugs Everyone’s Buying

The less transparent governments are about what they are doing to curb the spread of the virus, what treatment options are available, the more likely it is that people will resort to self-help, which could come with fatal consequences.

Nigeria's COVID-19 positive cases up to 4,151/ Photo credit: qz.com
Nigeria's COVID-19 positive cases up to 4,151/ Photo credit: qz.com

They heard about the possibility of an anti-malaria drug, chloroquine as treatment for the coronavirus.

Worried about getting sick, a couple in their 60s mixed chloroquine phosphate with liquid and drank it.

It took minutes for them to start vomiting and experience difficulties breathing.

They would both end up hospitalised with the husband unfortunately dying.

This was in Arizona, the United States of America.

It turned out what they ingested was a chemical used commonly to clean fish tanks.

The US President, Donald Trump, was the one that led the couple into believing chloroquine could save them from sickness and possibly death from coronavirus infection.

Just by giving a population hope that there is a drug out there that could save them from the pandemic, whether it really can treat it or not, is making the president more popular.

He is not the only one.

French doctor, Didier Raoult, has gained almost a rock star status for promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine for treating cases of COVID-19.

He been posting viral videos in which he denounces the establishment and the tedious methodologies necessary before drugs are approved.

In times of uncertainty, a virus that spreads like wildfire with no approved or accepted drugs to treat it, millions of people around the world are seeking assurances that health systems and medical professionals can protect them from the virus.

And when those assurances are absent, it can only be expected that people, like the Arizona couple, who are living in fear of the pandemic will take matters into their own hands and self-medicate.

And the less transparent governments are about what they are doing to curb the spread of the virus, what treatment options are available, the more likely it is that people will resort to self-help, which could come with fatal consequences.

According to test trials and medical journals, chloroquine makes it harder for the virus to fuse with its host.

It keeps the virus from binding with cell receptors that connect with the Coronavirus and it may reduce fluid that builds up in the lungs.

Considering the fact that 85 per cent of those infected recover on their own. And they don’t need treatment or hospitalisation, treating them with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine doesn’t necessarily mean they were saved by the drug

Medical studies have also reported success of another drug in treating mild and moderate cases.

Avigan, made by Fujifilm Toyama Chemicals in Japan apparently shortens the duration of the virus; that is, how long a patient will remain sick because of the virus.

The drug basically makes it hard for the virus to replicate.
So, in severe cases where the virus had already multiplied, the drug is not so effective.

But of the hundreds of studies going on to find the most effective drug in treating the coronavirus, the one experimental drug that researchers believe shows promise even in the most serious cases, is Remdesivir, made by French drug maker Gilead.

Like, Avigan, it is an antiviral drug but was initially developed to treat Ebola.

From the studies carried out, it’s only in the most extreme cases where patients were older than 70 that they didn’t recover.

Side effects of the drug could however, could lead to kidney problems.

According to scientists in a Science Translational Medicine article, one drug few people are talking about but has potential and could be more effective than Remdesivir is EIDD-2801 which introduces genetic mutations into the virus’s RNA.

All the damages mutations makes the virus unable to infect cells.

In the end though, not one of the many drugs being tested has passed clinical trials and approved by any recognised agency to treat Coronavirus.

But that hasn’t stopped countries and healthcare providers from buying and stockpiling the drugs, at least the ones that are commercially available.

In fact, not everyone is interested in buying drugs with the potential to treat COVID-19.

Federal and state governments in Nigeria have shown no inclination to do so and have given drug makers no incentives to produce any of these drugs, even ones that are easily produced in the country.

You can basically walk into any hospital in Nigeria, any pharmacy in any of the 36 states, even the most remote village, and chances are, you can readily buy chloroquine.

That is, unless stores and pharmacies have run out.

All around the world, governments and hospitals are stockpiling the drug.

More than 30 million doses have been donated to the US national stockpile, Israel has taken delivery of some 2.4 million doses and India has placed a ban on its export.

Yet, there is no definitive proof that it actually works.

Chinese doctors in Wuhan, China who have battled the virus longest, say there is no clear evidence it works.

The reason why it is not so clear is simple.

It is most effective when administered in the early stages of infection.

Where the NCDC and task force are failing is that there are 200 million people in the country, yet the number of testing facilities in the whole country can be counted on 10 fingers

In recent weeks, the focus has moved away from chloroquine and to hydroxychloroquine, a derivative.

But considering the fact that 85 per cent of those infected recover on their own. And they don’t need treatment or hospitalisation, treating them with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine doesn’t necessarily mean they were saved by the drug.

But because infections are rising, people are dying, something has to done.

Governments have to give signs of hope.

There is no doubt that public health and medical experts in Nigeria need to speak out more about every stage in containing the pandemic; from getting people tested, making drugs available in large numbers, to treating cases.

The Nation newspaper published an interview with the chief medical director of the University College Hospital in Ibadan, Professor Jesse Otegbayo on Sunday.
His experience he shared is probably worth more than all of the daily briefings held by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

Here was a personal experience of someone who had tested positive to the virus, happened to be a healthcare professional and a healthcare administrator.

He offered some guidance, gave answers and even assurances to the public that so far, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the presidential task force have been unable to do.

Where the NCDC and task force are failing is that there are 200 million people in the country, yet the number of testing facilities in the whole country can be counted on 10 fingers.

Even worse, it takes like a century for the results to come back.

For people who cannot get tested at the nearest health facility or have underlying illnesses and whose symptoms start to show after two days, that could be a wait too long, even a death sentence.

Considering the manner virus appeared in Kano, the security guard that travelled from Lagos to Kaduna only to later test positive and the rumours of an Okada rider who travelled to Katsina, also from Lagos and has reportedly infected an unidentified number of people; signs are that the virus is already spreading at the community level.

People are now afraid of anyone coming from Lagos.

These are people that probably travelled by road.

That means thousands could already be infected in Lagos and that the official NCDC count on the number of infections is no longer reliable, except for administrative purposes.

So for the millions who may never be able to get tested and the thousands of private hospitals in the country that are not getting any guidance from the a completely secretive, centralised and regimented approach to treating and containing the pandemic, self-medication maybe the only option open to them.

Perhaps, many Nigerians may well turn to herbalists, as it has become a habit in various parts of the country.

Written by Shuaib Shuaib

Shuaibu, a former Editor of the LEADERSHIP Newspapers, is based in Abuja.

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