A 44-year-old doctor from the state of Assam died of a heart attack on Saturday allegedly after consuming the anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine. The doctor has been identified as Utpaljit Barman and was a senior anaesthetist at a private hospital.
Barman had prescribed the drug for himself as a preventive measure against COVID-19. He practiced at Pratiksha Hospital, located in the state's largest city, Guwahati. It is not certain if the heart attack was triggered by the consumption of hydroxychloroquine. However, according to NDTV, sources claimed that Barman had corresponded with a colleague on Whatsapp and complained of uneasiness after taking the drug.
Self-prescription on the rise
Barman is not the first reported doctor to self-prescribe the anti-malarial drug. "Several doctors are using hydroxychloroquine as self-medication to prevent Covid-19. Barman too took it," said Nirmal Kumar Hazarika, medical superintendent of Pratiksha Hospital's, according to The Sentinel Assam.
Recently, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex medical body of the Indian government, had recommended the use of the drug to treat doctors, health workers, and family members who have been exposed to patients infected with the coronavirus. According to NDTV, Barman had not been a part of such a scenario yet.
However, it has been widely reported that shortly after US President Donald Trump's comments on the effectiveness of these drugs in treating COVID-19, panic buying of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine spiked, including in India. This was even before the ICMR's approval of the anti-malarial drug, with doctors stocking up on the drugs for themselves and their families.
Addressing this panic buying of the drug and the threats of unprescribed usage, Lav Aggarwal, inion health ministry's joint secretary, said at a press conference, "Hydroxychloroquine is only for specific use for health care workers. We appeal to people not to take it as it has side effects."
India has reported over 1,250 confirmed cases and 32 deaths due to the coronavirus so far.
Not the first reported case
It was reported last week that a sexagenarian from Phoenix, Arizona, after consuming chloroquine phosphate, a compound used to clean fish tanks and is also found in the anti-malarial medication. While the man could not be saved, his wife was said to be in a critical condition. This, again, came shortly after the US President's statement.
The woman is also in her 60's, said the couple was afraid of falling sick because of the coronavirus. She told NBC, "We saw his press conference. It was on a lot, actually. Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure." The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of the anti-malarial drug for the treatment of other conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus but the use of the drug for treating COVID-19 is unproven.
It was also reported recently, that three people were hospitalised for chloroquine poisoning after Trump's claims. This prompted the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to issue an advisory statement on Twitter asking people to not self-medicate. The tweet read: "#FactsNotFear@WHO has NOT approved the use of chloroquine for #COVID19management. Scientists are working hard to confirm the safety of several drugs for this disease. Please DO NOT engage in self-medication. This will cause harm and can lead to death."