Ever since the widespread breakout of the pandemic, Hydroxychloroquine has been on the headlines. This drug per say is the legitimate cure for malaria, lupus, erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis, however, it is also under study to curtail the effects of the corona virus to an extent. With no break through in the research sector as of now regarding the cure for corona virus, some countries have begun to import this medicine as a preventive measure from countries like India. In this article, I will be talking about the early discovery of Hydroxychloroquine and its history in India.
This article is inspired by the writing of Martin J Bergman, MD some years ago and Mr. Deepak Sood who recently wrote an article regarding the history and connection of Hydroxychloroquine in India.
The story of the HCQ begins in 1638 when the wife of the Peruvian Viceroy Countess Cinchona contracted malaria while residing in the New World. Rather than getting the “approved,” blood-letting treatment, she was treated with a tree’s bark by an Incan herbalist. Her response was drastic; and in turn when the Viceroy returned to Spain he brought massive quantities of powder with him for general use. In those times the supply of the powder was controlled by the church and was called “Jesuit’s Powder”. It nearly took two centuries for the active substance, Quinine, to be isolated from the bark. Over the next century, quinine would become a common component in folk medicines and patent remedies for the treatment of malaria in the southern states of America.
Meanwhile in India, shortly after the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British in 1799, the British soldiers in the area of Srirangapatnam were infected by Malaria as the Srirangapatnam was a highly marshy area with severe mosquito trouble. However, these conditions did not affect the Indians living there as they had developed a strong immune system having lived there for so long. In order to treat the disease Quinine was imported in bulk by the Army and distributed to all their soldiers, who were instructed to take regular dosages so that they could build their immunity.
But not all British soldiers followed this order as the medicine was very bitter. This resulted in the continuation of the spread of Malaria among the soldiers. In order to persuade the soldiers to drink it, scientists started making ways to make it less bitter and they finally found a way.
Thus, came the popular drink – gin and tonic. This drink soon became widely popular among the soldiers and the soldiers also started to get monthly rations of it. To cater to the growing demand of gin & other forms of liquor among British soldiers, the British East India company & their associates built several local breweries in and around Bengaluru. And that’s how, due to innumerable breweries and liquor distillation factories, Bengaluru had become the pub capital of India.
Over the years, Quinine has been further evolved into many of its varieties and derivatives, and commonly prescribed by Indian physicians. Another such descendant of Quinine, called Hydroxychloroquine, gradually became the generic treatment for malaria because it has fairly mild side effects compared to its predecessors, and is now undoubtedly the most sought-after medicine in the world today.
It is almost fascinating to know how a drug that was invented as a treatment for malaria went on to take so many forms with varied usages. We hope that along with malaria this drug (in one of its variants) is also able to cure viruses like Corona and once again help in stopping a pandemic.