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Greece goes ahead with chloroquine treatment of COVID-19

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GREECE has resumed production of chloroquine to treat cases of COVID-19 and is conducting clinical trials with a “calm and distant approach”, scientists there say.

  The Greece action comes amid the global controversy that surrounds the drug’s production to fight coronavirus.

  Chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, and hydroxychloroquine, a related compound normally used to treat arthritis, have been among the most high-profile drugs being tested for use against COVID-19.

  Last week a major UK trial run by Oxford University halted its tests of the drugs, saying there was no evidence they worked against the new coronavirus in hospitalised patients.

  The move came just after the World Health Organization (WHO) resumed its own trials after briefly suspending them in response to a now-retracted study in The Lancet.

  But the ongoing debate over the drugs has had little impact in Greece, where epidemiologists consider chloroquine effective, especially in the early stages of COVID-19.

  Evangelia Sakellariou, a chemist responsible for quality control in a laboratory in the Athens suburb of Nea Kifissia, was one of the first scientists to have tested the chloroquine tablets used in Greek hospitals.

  As the scale of the pandemic became apparent earlier this year, the company Uni-Pharma moved quickly to renew an old manufacturing licence for the drug, which was exported to Africa in the 1990s for the treatment of malaria.

  The licence was reactivated in March, just days before Greece closed its borders to contain the spread of the virus, Spyros Kintzios, Uni-Pharma’s development director said.

  Five tonnes of raw material were imported from India and the laboratory went into “high-alert”, Sakellariou said.

  “On the weekend of March 21 we were working constantly, we were under pressure and in 30 hours we produced 24 million doses, which were then offered to the Greek national health system,” she said of the pills, made under the brand name Unikinon.

  “When I saw the first tablets, I felt relieved and happy to have made this effort for a good cause,” Sakellariou added.

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