Indonesia produces chloroquine, anti-malaria drug tested as possible treatment for coronavirus

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (second from left) inspects a room during a visit to the Asian Games athlete's village which has been converted into a temporary hospital for Covid-19 patients in Jakarta on March 23, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - President Joko Widodo said on Monday (March 23) that Indonesia secured a supply of chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug being tested as a possible form of treatment for the coronavirus, as countries scramble to stock drugs and medical supplies to fight the disease.

Mr Joko said state-owned pharmaceutical company PT Kimia Farma produced the drug, which is extracted from the cinchona tree, a common plant in the country.

"There is neither a cure nor an antivirus to Covid-19, but in drawing from the experiences of countries, chloroquine can be used to help patients recover from disease," he said while inspecting the Asian Games athletes village in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, which has been turned into a special hospital to treat Covid-19 patients.

Mr Joko said the drug would not be available at drug stores because it could only be prescribed by a doctor. The government, he claimed, had secured 3 million chloroquine tablets that would be available at hospitals.

Chloroquine, commonly used to treat malaria, was recommended by China, which claimed it was effective in fighting the disease. The United States is testing chloroquine to determine whether it is suitable for treatment.

The drug is still under clinical trial at the World Health Organisation, along with anti-flu drug favipiravir, also known as Avigan; a combination of two HIV drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir; and the Ebola drug remdesivir.

Prof Keri Lestari from Padjadjaran University's pharmacology and clinical pharmacy department said Indonesia imported chloroquine phosphate as a raw material to produce the anti-malaria medicine, but it was not impossible to produce the drug with all local materials.

"We can produce the drug from a similar material called quinine sulphate," she told The Jakarta Post, stressing that more studies were needed to assess its effectiveness.

Prof Keri said the government should tap into the possibility of producing the drug using only local materials given the global drug scarcity.

"We have the laboratories at Padjadjaran University, Airlangga University and IPB University to conduct the necessary tests," she said.

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