As the world battles the novel Coronavirus pandemic, there is a surge in demand for hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a common anti-malarial drug that, in some quarters, has been touted as a possible “miracle drug” in the fight against COVID-19. The world has knocked the doors of India to get supplies of this drug, given that it produces nearly half the world's HCQ tablets.
It'll be interesting to note that the history of this "game-changer" drug goes two centuries back all the way to the British imperial expansion in India. According to a Twitter thread by a user named Primordial Kāshyap, hydroxychloroquine's roots go all the way to Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan's defeat at the hands of the British East India Company.
Fascinatingc story of the connexion between Hydroxychloroquine, British India, Srirangapatna and Gin & Tonic!— Primordial Kāshyap ❎ (@_ichat) April 10, 2020
As most of us are already aware, Hydroxychloroquine has taken the world by storm.
In 1799, when Tipu Sultan was defeated by the British, the whole of Mysore Kingdom (in present-day Karnataka) 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 fell ill due to malaria, because Srirangapatnam was a marshy area with severe mosquito trouble.
The local Indians had over the centuries, developed self-immunity, and their all spicy food habits helped to an extent. Whereas British troops and officers who were suddenly exposed to such tropical environment of southern India 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 cool 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.
Around the same time, Europeans had discovered a chemical composition called "Quinine" which could be used to treat malaria and was slowly gaining prominence. Thus, Quinine was imported in bulk by the British and distributed to all their soldiers, 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 the country had a malaria problem to some extent.
According to the US National Library of Medicine, Quinine is an alkaloid derived from the bark of the cinchona tree, native to the lush forests of South America The indigenous populations likely discovered the medicinal properties of this “magical” bark and used it to quash the fevers and chills that accompanied many tropical diseases. Eventually, quinine and other antipyretic alkaloids were isolated from the bark and would become the most effective treatments for malaria until the 1920s (when synthetic antimalarial agents like chloroquine were introduced).
However, Quinine was very bitter and many soldiers refused to gulp it. Following which the British sought ways to tone down the bitter taste of quinine by adding gin, water, and sugar to the mix in an attempt to create a more palatable antimalarial concoction. The Gin mixed with Quinine was called "Gin & Tonic", which immediately became an instant hit among British soldiers.
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.
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 a cure for fever or any infection.
Over the years, Quinine was developed further into many of its variants and derivatives and widely prescribed by Indian doctors. One such descendent of Quinine, called Hydroxychloroquine, eventually became the standardized cure for malaria because it has relatively lesser side effects compared to its predecessors, and is now suddenly the most sought after drug in the world today.
And that's how, a simple peek into the history of Hydroxychloroquine takes us all the way back to Tipu's defeat, mosquito menace, liquor rationing, colorful cocktails, tonics and medicinal cures.— Primordial Kāshyap ❎ (@_ichat) April 10, 2020
The Gin & Tonic is still known as the quintessential British drink; as former UK PM Winston Churchill once stated, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire”.