Hydroxychloroquine – India connect – Story

As most of us are already aware, Hydroxychloroquine has taken the world by storm. Every media is talking about it, and all countries are requesting India to supply it.

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Hydroxychloroquine

Request to lift Export ban

From US

US President Donald Trump has personally requested Prime Minister Modi to resume supply of Hydroxychloroquine, which the government of India had agreed upon.

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President Trump spoke to Prime Minister Modi

From Brazil

A similar request has come from the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who in his letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said,

“Just as Lord Hanuman brought the holy medicine from the Himalayas to save the life of Lord Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, and Jesus healed those who were sick and restored the sight to Bartimeu, India and Brazil will overcome this global crisis by joining forces and sharing blessings for the sake of all people.”

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From Saarc nations

Saarc nations too have urged India to lift ban on this key drug.

Now, a curious person might wonder why and how this chemical composition is so deeply entrenched in India, and is there any history behind it.

Mosquito Menace faced by British Soldiers

Well, there is an interesting history behind it which goes all the way to Tipu Sultan’s defeat. In 1799, when Tipu was defeated by the British, the whole of Mysore Kingdom with Srirangapatnam as Tipu’s capital, came under British control. For the next few days, the British soldiers had a great time celebrating their victory, but within weeks, many started feeling sick due to Malaria, because Srirangapatnam was surrounded by marshy lends with severe mosquito trouble.

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Defeat of Tipu Sultan

Malaria

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease affecting humans and other animals. It is usually transmitted by an infected female Anopheles mosquito and is common in tropical regions of the world.

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Anopheles mosquito

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Geographical Distribution of Malaria across the World – Typically all tropical regions

Source – Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Ronald Ross

The first cure for this deadly disease came from a British scientist Sir Ronald Ross who was born on Indian soil at Almora, Himalayas.

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Sir Ronald Ross

Sir Ronald Ross who was sent to England to study as a boy, trained in medicine in England and returned to India to serve in the Indian Medical Service. Challenged by the Malaria disease which was killing people by the thousands, he took it upon himself to find the cause, as only then could cure follow.

His path breaking finds, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1902, included the following facts:

  1. that Malaria was transmitted by mosquitoes
  2. that the mosquito was only a carrier of the malaria causing parasite, which bred in its gut
  3. that the parasite was stored in its salivary gland and was transmitted to people through its sting when the mosquito bit people
  4. that the parasite further bred in people, moved around in their blood and entered new host mosquitoes when they bit the infected people thus creating a long chain of infected persons and mosquitoes.

But his further research was cut short when he was transferred to Kherwara in Rajasthan immediately, a desert, where there was no water stagnation and consequentially no malaria mosquito breeding.

This posting was in a way, a punishment handed over to Ronald Ross. For, it was then the policy of the British government in India to create famine and epidemics in order to suppress the Indian masses.

Harsh Reality faced by the British soldiers

The local Indian population had over the centuries, developed self-immunity, and also all the spicy food habits helped to an extent. Whereas the British soldiers and officers who were suddenly exposed to harsh Indian conditions, started bearing the brunt.

To quickly overcome the mosquito menace, the British Army immediately shifted their station from Srirangapatnam to Bangalore by establishing the Bangalore Cantonment region, which was a welcome change, especially due to a equally pleasant weather, which the Brits were gravely missing ever since they had left their shores. But the malaria problem still persisted because Bangalore was also no exception to mosquitoes.

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Bangalore Cantonment

Quinine

Around the same time, after the discovery of the cause by Ronald Ross, European scientists had discovered a chemical composition called “Quinine” which could be used to treat malaria, and was slowly gaining prominence, but it was yet to be extensively tested at large scale. This malaria crisis among British Army came at an opportune time, and thus Quinine was imported in bulk by the British Army and distributed to all their soldiers in India, who were instructed to take regular dosages (even to healthy soldiers) so that they could build immunity. This was followed up in all other British stations throughout India, because every region in India had malaria problem to some extent.

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Quinine

British Soldiers avoid Bitter Quinine

But there was a small problem. Although sick soldiers quickly recovered, many more soldiers who were exposed to harsh conditions of tropical India continued to become sick, because it was later found that they were not taking dosages of Quinine. Why? Because it was very bitter!! So, by avoiding the bitter Quinine, British soldiers stationed in India were lagging behind on their immunity, thereby making themselves vulnerable to Malaria in the tropical regions of India.

Quinine mixed with Juniper became sweet

That’s when all the top British officers and scientists started experimenting ways to persuade their soldiers to strictly take these dosages, and during their experiments, they found that the bitter Quinine mixed with Juniper based liquor, actually turned somewhat into a sweet flavor. That’s because the molecular structure of the final solution was such that it would almost completely curtail the bitterness of Quinine.

Junpers are coniferous trees which gives berries, the liquids of which are used to make Juniper based liquor.

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Juniper Tree

Gin and Tonic

That juniper based liquor was Gin. And the Gin mixed with Quinine was called “Gin & Tonic”, which immediately became an instant hit among British soldiers.

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Gin & Tonic

The same British soldiers who were ready to even risk their lives but couldn’t stand the bitterness of Quinine, started swearing by it daily when they mixed it with Gin. In fact, the Army even started issuing few bottles of Gin along with “tonic water” (Quinine) as part of their monthly ration, so that soldiers could themselves prepare Gin & Tonic and consume them everyday to build immunity.

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Bangalore becomes the Pub Centre

To cater to the growing demand of gin & other forms of liquor among British soldiers, the British East India company built several local breweries in and around Bengaluru, which could then be transported to all other parts of India. And that’s how, due to innumerable breweries and liquor distillation factories, Bengaluru had already become the pub capital of India way back during British times itself.

Breweries purchased by Vittal Mallaya

Post independence, most of these breweries were purchased from British organizations after Indian independence, by none other than Vittal Mallya (Vijay Mallya’s father), who then led the consortium under the group named United Breweries headquartered in Bengaluru.

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Vittal Mallya

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Popularity of “Tonic”

Coming back to the tonic, that’s how Gin & Tonic became a popular cocktail and is still a popular drink even today. The Quinine, which was called Tonic (without gin), was widely prescribed by doctors as well, for patients who needed cure for fever or any infection. Whenever someone in a typical Indian village fell sick, the most common advice given by his neighbors was “Visit the doctor and get some tonic”. Over time, the tonic word was so overused that became a reference to any medicine in general. So, that’s how the word “Tonic”, became a colloquial word for “western medicine” in India.

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Hydroxychloroquine – A descendant of Quinine

Over the years, Quinine was developed further into many of its variants and derivatives and widely prescribed by Indian doctors. One such descendant of Quinine is called Hydroxychloroquine.

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy

Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, known as “The Father of Modern Indian Chemistry”, was a well-known Indian scientist, teacher and one of the foremost chemical researchers. In 1901, Dr. P C Ray formed the Bengal Chemicals, the first pharmaceutical company in India.

In the year 1896, Dr. P C Ray did research on Iodochlorhydroxyquin. 40 years later, based on the pioneering steps of Dr. P C Ray, chemists from Europe came up with a refined chemical compound named Chloroquine from which was derived Hydroxychloroquine in 1944. All these chemical compounds and their additions belong to the Quinine family in which the early steps were taken in post Tipu days by the British chemists. Then later, the pioneer of Modern Indian Chemistry P C Ray took it ahead. A few decades later German chemists came up with the formulation of Hydroxychloroquine.

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Prafulla Chandra Ray

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Bengal Chemicals

Standard cured for Malaria

Eventually Hydroxychloroquine became the standardized cure for malaria because it has relatively lesser side effects compared to its predecessors, and is now the sought after drug in the world for Covid-19 book.

A word of caution

However this drug needs be taken only under medical supervision, for it has got cardiac and other related side effects.

Quinine Tonic Connect

A peek into the history of Hydroxychloroquine takes us all the way back to Tipu’s defeat, mosquito menace, liquor rationing, pub culture, colorful cocktails, tonics, medicinal cures and international relations.

More on Hydroxychloroquine in our book, Staying Alive.

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