Following a recent eye health tour in Uganda, a group of experts (Drs Sandford-Smith, Hall, Waddell and Mattus) have been concerned to discover the abuse of chloroquine. Most health workers keep stocks of chloroquine to treat malaria. The drug is cheap, easy to obtain and very effective. However, what is not so widely known is that if high doses of this drug are taken over a long period of time, then eyesight is damaged. The damage is very gradual and slight at first. However, there is no treatment to reverse this damage (known as chloroquine retinopathy). It is permanent, and if high doses of chloroquine continue to be taken, vision can be severely affected.
Dr Brian Fleck comments that health workers who are giving out the correct doses of chloroquine to patients with malaria need have no fear. Chloroquine is an excellent drug - but, like any drug, it can be abused. People should be aware that it should only be taken for short periods at the correct dose. Unfortunately the team discovered that in Uganda people were using it to treat all kinds of illnesses just because it is so cheap and readily available. The team recommended that, in future, bottles should contain a warning label: excess use can damage the sight.
Adapted from an article in Community Eye Health Issue No 9.