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Israel stockpiles malaria drug to treat virus, in case Trump is right about cure

Huge quantities of the drugs dubbed Trump’s miracle coronavirus cure have arrived in Israel, but doctors are cautious and expect that most of the pills will stay in storage for the foreseeable future.

Hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that has been famously lauded by US President Donald Trump, has been brought to Israel in large quantities.

“Because of excitement, government has made a decision to stockpile it,” Jacob Moran-Gilad, a member of the Health Ministry’s Epidemic Management Team, told The Times of Israel.

But he said that doctors aren’t about to start widely prescribing it to coronavirus patients, expecting to see improvements. Moran-Gilad, a Ben-Gurion University of the Negev professor, said that the government is getting ahead of the game in case the drug’s effectiveness is proven and the international market melts down.

The rationale behind the hydroxychloroquine acquisition, he said, is that “in a few weeks’ time if there is official data to show it is beneficial it will be very difficult to secure the drug.”

As well as creating large hydroxychloroquine stores, Israel is gathering big supplies of a similar drug that Trump has also spoken about. On Saturday night, an Israeli government statement trumpeted the arrival of “enormous” shipments of supplies for fighting coronavirus, including 2.4 million pills of chloroquine, a drug normally used to prevent and treat malaria, and said that ingredients to produce more are on their way from India.

Trump’s heralding of the drugs has caused unprecedented levels of frustration directed at him from American doctors and scientists.

“What do you have to lose? Take it,” he said of hydroxychloroquine, despite his own coronavirus advisers stressing that research is needed regarding its safety and efficacy.

But in Israel, the growing investment in malaria drugs hasn’t been accompanied by giddy statements or politicians heralding its effectiveness.

Zeev Feldman, deputy president of the Israeli Medical Association, said that he is reserving judgment on the malaria drugs, but believes the government is acting wisely by stockpiling while testing is still underway.

He sees it in the context of an “international arms race” on all medical supplies that can help in the coronavirus crisis, and thinks it is driven by the sound logic that “if scientific data accumulates showing they are effective, it may be too late to acquire the drugs.”

Doctors aren’t coming under pressure to administer hydroxychloroquine, he said.

Moran-Gilad said that the Epidemic Management Team discussed whether to give hospitals any directions regarding hydroxychloroquine, and decided not to.

“At the moment there is no official guidance or endorsement by the Ministry of Health that it should be used for COVID-19,” he said. “We discussed this in the national management team and we decided not to give guidance as there is no data to support the use of this drug.”

He said that doctors are allowed to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to their patients, and some are doing so. But he stressed: “The fact there is a stockpile of the drug does not mean there is official endorsement or encouragement to liberally use this drug.”

Original: TOI – Nathan Jeffay