No hydroxychloroquine trials: Testing of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for coronavirus has been halted because of safety fears, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
The World Health Organization said on Monday it had temporarily suspended clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for coronavirus. The decision came after a study published in The Lancet medical journal last week suggested the drug could increase the risk of death among COVID-19 patients, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference.
Trials in several countries are being “temporarily” suspended as a precaution, the agency said on Monday.
The US president has repeatedly promoted the anti-malarial drug, against medical advice and despite warnings from public health officials that it could cause heart problems.
Hydroxychloroquine is safe for malaria, and conditions like lupus or arthritis, but no clinical trials have recommended its use for treating Covid-19.
The WHO, which is running clinical trials of various drugs to assess which might be beneficial in treating the disease, has previously raised concerns over reports of individuals self-medicating and causing themselves serious harm.
On Monday, officials at the UN health agency said hydroxychloroquine would be removed from those trials pending a safety assessment.
The Lancet study involved 96,000 coronavirus patients, nearly 15,000 of whom were given hydroxychloroquine – or related form chloroquine – either alone or with an antibiotic.
The study found that the patients were more likely to die in the hospital and develop heart rhythm complications than other COVID patients in a comparison group.
The death rates of the treated groups were: hydroxychloroquine 18%; chloroquine 16.4%; control group 9%. Those treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in combination with antibiotics had an even higher death rate.
The researchers warned that hydroxychloroquine should not be used outside of clinical trials.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which began late last year in China, has killed nearly 350,000 people worldwide and infected almost 5.5 million, according to an AFP tally using official sources.
While there is still no approved treatment or vaccine, drastic measures that at one point saw a half of humanity under lockdown have pushed down transmission rates in several countries.
As many nations begin to gradually lift restrictions, the WHO stressed the need to maintain physical distancing and to scale up efforts to test and detect cases. “All countries need to remain on high alert,” WHO expert Maria Van Kerkhove said.