An ambulance is seen on an empty street in Amman after the start of a nationwide curfew [Muhammad Hamed/Reuters]
Jordan’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised physicians to use hydroxychloroquine along with an antiviral medicine as a treatment for COVID-19 in patients in an advanced stage of the disease.
A recent French study has shown hydroxychloroquine, a malaria treatment that has been in use around the world for decades, may be beneficial if taken with an antibiotic for fighting a coronavirus infection.
Dr Hayel Obeidat, the head of Jordan’s FDA, told Al Jazeera his organisation authorised the use of hydroxychloroquine on Sunday and established a legal basis for it citing international studies in the United States and Europe
He told Al Jazeera, “hydroxychloroquine should only be used as part of a treatment protocol with other antiviral components with doctors’ supervision. It is not a prevention mechanism.”
Obeidat added that the treatment should be for “compassionate use” for patients who are in stage 2 of the disease or suffer serious complications.
Obeidat said he banned the sale of hydroxychloroquine in pharmacies to prevent people from hoarding the medication and depriving patients who really need it.
Health Minister Dr Saad Jaber announced 13 more cases in a televised news conference on Sunday night, raising the total number to 112. About 5,000 people are still in government quarantine in hotels in the capital Amman and the Dead Sea area.
The government declared a state of emergency on Thursday and announced a general curfew on Saturday to fight the coronavirus’ spread.
As for treating current COVID-19 infections in Jordan with hydroxychloroquine, Obeidat said, at this point, all confirmed cases are not serious enough to require it.
He said Jordanian pharmaceutical manufacturers had large quantities of the drug and donated all of their stock to the government in the effort to fight the infection.
Dr Asem Mansour, the head of Jordan’s King Hussein Cancer Center, a prominent hospital in Jordan, said the French study that declared hydroxychloroquine was a possible coronavirus treatment was not accurate scientifically in terms of its size and measurement parameters.
“However,” he said, “the use of hydroxychloroquine should be administered only as a medicine of last resort.”
Jordan, a country of about 10 million people, is not capable of handling an exponential growth of the virus among its population, which is expected in the weeks to come, he said.
“The next three weeks are critical because the quarantined people might show infections and because of massive lines at bakeries and food stores right before the curfew took effect on Saturday, which might raise the number of infections,” said Mansour.
“Our hope is that people would obey government directives to prevent widespread infection and spare the country a dire situation.”
He added Jordan has a limited number of intensive care units and hospital beds to handle a widespread outbreak.
Lack of testing
A professor of medicine at a national university, with first-hand knowledge of coronavirus cases in the country, agreed with Mansour, stressing Jordan has not reached its peak number of cases yet.
“Based on the behaviour of the population, which has not been very helpful in the past few weeks, and the lack of widespread testing by the government, I expect an exponential growth of infections,” he told Al Jazeera on a condition of anonymity, because he was not allowed to speak to the media.
While Jordan currently has no coronavirus deaths, he said, it would likely see some, especially among older patients.
Casting a hopeful note, Dr Mansour, head of King Hussien Cancer Center, said he “hopes Jordan can overcome that because the majority of its population are young and might not need extensive hospitalisation should they get infected”.
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