Uganda’s Cipla Takes Bold Step to Make ‘Unpopular’ Malaria Drug

Uganda pharmaceutical firm, Cipla Quality Chemicals Industries Ltd (CiplaQCIL), is taking a big bet in the war against global Covid-19 pandemic.

The Uganda Securities Exchange (USE)-listed company will this month start production of the controversial anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, targeting Ugandan coronavirus patients and wider African market.

Some health experts have touted hydroxychloroquine as being an effective immune modulator for patients suffering the virus disease, even though there is no consensus yet on its reliability of the drug and side-effects.

"We hope to start manufacture of HCQ in about two weeks, the hydroxychloroquine raw material will be arriving later this week," said CiplaQCIL chief executive, Nevin Bradford, in an interview with The EastAfrican.

Uganda’s Ministry of Health is Cipla’s primary client, providing an important financial cushioning for the company’s big bet.

The pharmaceutical firm, which last year recorded a turnover of Ush195.1 billion ($50.9 million), down from Ush227.3 billion ($59.3 million) in 2018, is a subsidiary of Cipla India – one of the world’s largest generic drugs manufacturers.

Cipla Ltd of India owns a 51 per cent stake in the Kampala-based drugs processor through its wholly-owned Meditab Holdings Ltd of Mauritius, while a number of other corporate, institutional and individual investors – both Ugandan and foreign – hold the remaining stake.

Mr Bradford said the pharmaceutical firm will initially supply Uganda but will rump up capacity to produce more if there is demand from governments in the region.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is yet to approve HCQ as part of the treatment regime for Covid-19, but the drug is being used to treat patients in clinical trials in France and China.

President Yoweri Museveni has been a strong advocate of the drug, terming it an effective solution to the Covid-19 challenge in several of his televised addresses to the nation, a position that has earned an endorsement of Uganda’s health professionals.

US President Donald Trump has also strongly backed the controversial drug, despite scepticism of its efficacy by his own health officials.Uganda’s director general of Health Services Dr Henry Mwebesa said the country’s first lot of patients that recovered from Covid-19 were on HCQ, although Uganda is not among the countries participating in clinical trials for the drug."We are using HCQ on compassionate means not as clinical trial," Dr Mwebesa told The EastAfrican.In medical jargon, compassionate use is a method of providing experimental treatments even before a drug is given final approval for use in humans; on very sick […]

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