Lupus Patients Concerned as Essential Medication Is Bought up Due to Unconfirmed Coronavirus Treatment Benefits

The medication hydroxychloroquine is running out due to unproven claims that it can "cure" the coronavirus, leaving lupus patients who need it scrambling. The drug is used to treat lupus in in 5 million people worldwide, according to a report by The Guardian, but is now being prescribed for COVID-19 as well. So far, there is not sufficient evidence to show that it has any effect against the pandemic.

Hydroxychloroquine is a less toxic version of the malaria medication chloroquine and is used to treat people with lupus, an immune system disorder. World leaders like President Donald Trump and Brazil's Jair Boslonaro have made public claims that hydroxychloroquine could be the key to the coronavirus cure, but so far scientists have not gathered robust evidence on the drug. Still, the public fervor for the drug has led to mass shortages around the globe.

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I spoke with @cbsthismorning regarding the stockpiling of Hydroxychlorquine. Though we all desperately want a viable treatment for COVID-19, there are millions of people like me, with auto-immune diseases and other health conditions, who depend on this drug to survive. I have Lupus and I have been on Hydroxychlorquine daily since I was fifteen years old. I do not know what life with Lupus is like without taking this medication twice a day. And right now, I cannot get a refill. It is not available to me. @lupusorg and other organizations are actively working to ensure that those who depend on this medication still have access to it. This is why the #stayathome order is so crucial at this point in time. The order will not only help to slow the spread of COVID-19, and help to protect those who are high risk, but it will lessen the impact on our healthcare system that is already so overwhelmed by this pandemic. Limited access to a medication that is essential to millions of people suffering from autoimmune conditions is an example of one of the many unforeseen impacts. Thank you for your time. #withoutmyHCQ

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Both Italy and France have already loosened restrictions on hydroxicholorquine, allowing doctors to perscribe it for cases of COVID-19. This has led to potentially catastrophic shortages of the medication, which is needed more than ever for lupus patients with compromised immune systems.

So far, the U.K., France, Thailand and other countries have reported shortages of hydroxychloroquine. The raw ingredient of the drug is manufactured in India, and the country has now banned all exports of the chemical to ensure that it retains its own supply. India has also advised healthcare workers to take the drug to protect themselves from coronavirus — again, without conclusive evidence that it works.

All of this has lupus patients and advocates panicking. They are calling on the governments of the world to prioritize the proven uses of the drugs over unfounded calls for it to be used outside of its clinical context.

"We are incredibly concerned at the moment," Paul Howard of the group Lupus U.K. told The Guardian. "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 lupus patients, hydroxychloroquine prevents their immune system from making too many antibodies, which would otherwise attack the body's own organs. The usually reliable stock of the drug — commonly branded as Plaquenil — are out in many cases, leaving them exposed in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis.

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Meanwhile, health experts are stressing just how unproven the drug is against COVID-19. Oxford professor Nick White noted that "it may be worse than nothing. We don't know," and other public health officials have walked out on their organizations for changing their policies.

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