The WHO says it is temporarily halting its clinical trials that use hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19 patients. This is over published concerns that the drug may do more harm than good.
The move comes after a medical journal (The Lancet) reported that patients getting hydroxychloroquine were dying at higher rates than other coronavirus patients.
The WHO has about 3,500 patients from 17 countries enrolled in what it calls the Solidarity Trial. This is an effort overseen by the WHO to find new treatments for Covid-19.
Some patients in the trial have been randomly assigned to be treated with hydroxychloroquine which is a common malaria drug. While others are on 3 other experimental drugs in various combinations. Only the hydroxychloroquine part of the trial is being put on hold.
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WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the discontinuation during an online press conference from Geneva on Monday. He said: “The review will consider data collected so far in the Solidarity Trial and in particular robust, randomized available data to adequately evaluate the potential benefits and harms from this drug” .
The WHO’s chief scientist, Soumya Swaminathan, says the review was prompted by the article in The Lancet.
Hydroxychloroquine has been touted by US President Donald Trump and others as an effective treatment for Covid-19. Mr Trump said last week that he was taking the drug to help prevent infection, although he later announced that he had stopped taking it.
Across the world, there is currently about 5.5 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. Of this 5.5 million, there are about 350,000 deaths and over 2.4 million recoveries. The virus has affected 213 countries and territories in total.