Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration is distributing Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to more than 6,600 community pharmacies for free in a decision made a short time after the World Health Organization issued “strong advice” against using the drug for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 last month.
Taiwan’s health authorities purchased supplies of the drug in large quantities in the first quarter of 2020 as researchers and public health officials around the world initially supported the use of HCQ as a potential preventative treatment for COVID-19.
Taiwanese pharmaceutical company Sci Pharmtech (TWSE:4119), whose Taoyuan factory was the world’s second-largest manufacturer of HCQ raw materials at the time, donated 1 ton of the drug to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, enough for around 5 million doses, in April 2020. With donations and purchases, the Ministry of Health and Welfare eventually accumulated 15 million doses of HCQ.
A WHO panel strongly advised against using hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19 on March 2, 2021. The panel that reviewed hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 preventive based their conclusion on a review of six randomized controlled trials that included more than 6,000 participants who did and didn’t have exposure to someone infected with the virus. They published their findings in BMJ, as well as on the WHO’s website.
While it is not known if it is directly connected with the WHO announcement (Taiwan is not part of WHO), the FDA contacted the National Federation of Pharmacists Association just 10 days later, on March 12 to announce the free HCQ giveaway.
Faced with a massive stockpile of the anti-inflammatory drug that is useful in the treatment of such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, the FDA decided to distribute HCQ for free to community pharmacies around the country for the use by people who have prescriptions.
More than 6,600 community pharmacies recently received a container of 1,000 HCQ pills each. The Ministry of Health and Welfare had spent NT$30-40 million to purchase supplies, United Daily News reported. Having spent so much money, and with the expiry date being just one year away, the ministry decided to distribute the drugs for free to avoid waste of public funds.
Hong Xiuxun (洪秀勳), a researcher in the pharmaceuticals group, pointed out that “this is probably the first time in history that medicines were given to medical institutions and pharmacies for free.”
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