Journey of Quinine to Hydroxyquinine with Tipu Sultan and Gin-Tonic

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By: Dr. Samayug Bhowmik, Bureau Chief-ICN West Bengal

KOLKATA: Once upon a time an Indian with a high fever fell sick in Andean forest of South America. He became very thirsty and without finding any other way he drank water from a pool of stagnant water surrounded by the same type of trees. He found the water was bitter in taste and presumed that the water had been contaminated and he engulfed some poison with water. Astonishingly, his fever soon remitted and he shared these incidental findings to fellow villagers, who thereafter used extracts from the bark of the same tree to treat fever. This legend was informed to a Spanish lady Countess of Chinch on who while in Peru, contracted a fever and was cured by the bark of the same tree. Thus when returning to Spain she carried the bark of the tree and introduced it to Europe in 1638. Later in 1742, botanist Carl Linnaeus named the tree as “Cinchona” in her honour.

As most of us are already aware that Hydroxychloroquine is the talk of the town throughout the world. All Newspapers and Media are talking about it and all countries are requesting India to supply the same. 

Now, everybody may wonder why and how this medicine was related with peoples of then India and to fulfill our curiosity, we went to look back to history.  

There is an interesting story behind it which started since Tipu Sultan’s defeat. In 1799, when Tipu was defeated by the British, the whole of Mysore Kingdom with Srirangapatnam (the then capital of Tipu Sultan) came under British control. Afterwards when the British soldiers was continuing to celebrate their victory, within few weeks, many started feeling sick due to Malaria as Srirangapatnam was very much prevalent with mosquito borne diseases. 

The people of the locale gathered herd immunity ( the immunity achieved from a community) over malaria but that immunity was not present among the British. Thus British soldiers and officers who were suddenly exposed to harsh Indian conditions, started to develop malaria.  

To overcome this mosquito menace, the British Army immediately shifted from Srirangapatnam to Bangalore. But the malaria problem, although less in number, still persisted because Bangalore was also without exception to malaria.

Nearly the same time, European scientists had discovered “Quinine” from cinchona bark and used it to treat malaria over limited sufferers and which needed large scale extensive trials and thus they got these British soldiers for a big trial. Thus Quinine was imported in bulk quantity by the British Army and distributed to all their soldiers and was instructed to take as per recommended dosage. Also the same protocol was followed in all other British army camps throughout India, as Malaria was most prevalent in the India.

As quinine is bitter in taste all the soldiers did not follow the exact guideline laid by European scientists thus few was not cured and on interrogation it was known that these soldiers did not take Quinine as per prescribed dose due to extreme bitterness.

Getting informed about the bitter taste and continued sickness of their soldiers, the British officers and scientists started to mask the bitter taste of Quinine and found that a liquor of Gin nearly curtailed the bitterness and hence called the mixture as “Gin & Tonic”.

Afterwards this Gin & Tonic became so popular that it was even widely prescribed by the doctors at that time in fever where most of the patients got cured. By this way a colloquial expression was established that ” if you suffer with fever go to a doctor to get some tonic.”

Since the invention of Quinine gradually by research Hydroxychloroquine was developed and now it becomes the drug of today in COVID 19 positive patients. 

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