The coronavirus outbreak in China leads patients to seek remedies

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BEIJING: desperate to find a cure for the new coronavirus that spreads rapidly throughout the country, Chinese families go online to search for experimental remedies that can be effective against the virus, despite government warnings that it has not been Found a proven treatment.

Among the most sought-after medications is Kaletra, an HIV antiretroviral manufactured by the American pharmaceutical giant.

AbbVie Inc.

It blocks the enzymes that some viruses need to replicate.

Chen Ruoping’s relatives joined the fight for the drug, known in Mandarin as Kelizhi, after the 57-year-old man developed a fever and was diagnosed with a lung infection last month. Mr. Chen, who lives at the epicenter of the outbreak in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, was rejected in overflowing hospitals that had run out of diagnostic kits for the coronavirus, pressing his son online to help him.

“Does anyone in Wuhan have Kelizhi?” Wrote the youngest Mr. Chen in China


-like the social media platform Weibo. “I beg you all. I will be responsible for all the consequences.”

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The World Health Organization reported on Wednesday the largest single-day increase in new cases and said it was seeking $ 675 million in funds to help countries strengthen their public health capabilities to prevent the spread of the virus. The outbreak has infected more than 28,000 people and killed more than 560, most of them in Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital.

The United States evacuated hundreds more Americans from Wuhan on Wednesday, with two planes arriving at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California. Two more planes with Wuhan passengers in the United States are expected on Thursday.

Meanwhile, United Airlines Holdings Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc. suspended flights to Hong Kong until February 20, citing a lack of demand, while Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. asked its employees to take three weeks of optional unpaid vacations.

Chinese medical researchers are optimistic about Kaletra’s potential to treat coronavirus in part because it was previously effective in fighting severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, also caused by a coronavirus that originated in China.

Records show that researchers in China have requested to test more than 10 medications in patients with viruses, including antimalarial chloroquine, antiretroviral darunavir for HIV and various flu medications.

Wuhan has designated approximately two dozen hospitals for the treatment of coronavirus and hastened to build or reuse other facilities to treat the most serious cases. That still leaves thousands of confirmed and suspected patients in quarantine, either at home or in hotels, with limited access to doctors. And with overcrowded city hospitals and few experimental medications, some who suspect they might be infected are now taking the treatment in their own hands.

Some 3,700 passengers and crew on a cruise ship docked in Japan are quarantined on the ship after 10 people tested positive for the new coronavirus. A passenger talked about his time aboard the Diamond Princess. Photo: Behrouz Mehri / Getty Images

It is not unusual for sick people in China to turn to black or gray markets for drugs. As in the US In the US, the prices of many state-of-the-art drugs, such as cancer drugs, are out of the reach of regular patients, which leads some to look for cheaper generics through unapproved channels, or even mix their own. Raw materials purchased online.

As the Wuhan outbreak accelerated at the end of January, the Chinese National Health Commission warned that antiviral drugs had not been found to be effective, but suggested a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir antiretroviral drugs, the same combination used in Kaletra.

The next day, Wang Guangfa, a respiratory specialist at the First Hospital of Peking University, said he took both medications after becoming infected with the new virus while treating patients in Wuhan.

“Many patients generally need more than one or two weeks for their condition to improve,” Dr. Wang told state media. Its temperature began to drop a day after taking the Kaletra mixture, he said.

Taking powerful medications without a doctor’s supervision is dangerous, but reports on Dr. Wang’s success convinced the Chen family to take a risk. Mr. Chen had recently undergone 12 rounds of chemotherapy for rectal cancer. The new coronavirus has been particularly fatal for older men with other medical conditions.

“My dad is very weak. Chemotherapy destroyed his immune system, ”said his son, who refused to give his name.

The challenge was to find the drug. The Chinese government generally supplies Kaletra only to HIV patients with a prescription. Chicago-based AbbVie said last month that it had donated about $ 2 million of the drug as an “experimental option” in response to a request from the Chinese health authorities. But access was limited even within Wuhan hospitals.

Another Wuhan resident with the last name Chen, who has no relationship with Chen Ruoping, said that her 32-year-old husband who was treated for the virus at Wuhan Hospital No. 9 was denied the drug.

“We asked Kaletra, but the doctors told us it was under strict controls,” he said.

A worker who answered the phone at the hospital pharmacy said Wednesday that his Kaletra stock was small and that it was being administered only to patients with severe symptoms.

When asked to comment, AbbVie referred to a previous statement” class=”icon none” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>since last week promising to provide enough Kaletra for both the national HIV / AIDS program and the fight against the new coronavirus. The National Health Commission did not respond to a request for comment. Health authorities are also trying to calm the enthusiasm for Kaletra and its generic equivalents, pointing out possible side effects such as liver damage and allergic reactions.

For many patients with viruses, unofficial channels are the only option. A provider is an HIV patient based in Zhengzhou City, known online as “Brother Squirrel,” who runs a platform for other HIV-positive people to talk about medications. After seeing news that the drug could have the potential to treat the Wuhan virus, he said he asked users to donate additional supplies.

“I didn’t know there was such a large demand,” said the provider, who only gave his last name, Li. Within a week, Li said, he had collected enough for 100 patients and was giving it away, giving priority to infected doctors.

Selling prescription drugs without a license is illegal in China, but donating them is not, Li said. He said he recently ordered 428 packages of the generic version of India, where prices are rising rapidly.

Sellers have been offering Kaletra for between 1,000 and 5,000 yuan ($ 142- $ 714) for each package of 120 pills in Xianyu, a second-hand online market owned by the e-commerce giant.

Alibaba Holding Group Limited.,

equal to approximately one month of treatment.

Xianyu removed the listings shortly after The Wall Street Journal contacted Alibaba for comments. “The Xianyu market strictly prohibits the illegal and illegal behavior of third-party vendors on their platforms,” ​​a spokesman for Xianyu said in a statement. “We will also continue to take action against vendors that violate the laws or our product listing policy.”

Patients with HIV can get Kaletra for free at hospitals designated for HIV / AIDS, or for about $ 100 per packet with a prescription, according to Mr. Li.

Bai Hua, the director of a Beijing-based nonprofit advocacy group for people living with HIV, said he was keeping his drug supplies for HIV patients, but gave in to a request from a coronavirus patient in Hubei.

“He begged me so much that it was almost as if he was kneeling in front of me, so I gave him a backpack,” Bai said.

People tend to rush to treasure any medical treatment mentioned in state media, Bai said.

A similar dynamic has revolved around shuanghuanglian, a traditional Chinese cold remedy that China’s official Xinhua news agency, citing experts, said was effective in curbing the growth of the new virus. Within hours, the photos proliferated on the social networks of people standing in long lines to buy the herbal liquid, made with honeysuckle, forsitia and a type of mint in bloom known as a cap.

The next day, the newspaper of the Communist Party spokesperson, the People’s Daily, tried to calm the frenzy, saying in its official Weibo account that the remedy was not a cure or treatment for the virus. But by then the country’s inventory had already run out.

On Monday, Chen Ruoping got a donation of 30 Kaletra pills, enough for seven days, from a good-hearted stranger in Wuhan, his son said. Following a suggestion that the family read in an online story, Mr. Chen combined the dose of Kaletra with the anti-influenza medicine Tamiflu.

After a day of drinking the cocktail, said young Chen, his father’s blood oxygen level had increased from 80 to 80, still below normal, but at least an improvement.

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