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WHO halts major coronavirus drug trials after worrying death figures are revealed
May 25, 2020
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Hydroxychloroquine trials in several countries are being “temporarily” suspended as a precaution, the agency said on Monday. It comes after a recent medical study suggested the drug could increase the risk of patients dying from Covid-19.
Last week, a study in medical journal The Lancet said there were no benefits to treating coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine.
The study concluded that taking the drug, previously praised by US president Donald Trump might even increase the number of deaths among those in hospital with the disease.
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 has been running clinical trials of various drugs to assess which might be beneficial in treating the disease.
The organisation 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 a related form chloroquine – either alone or with an antibiotic.
The study found that the patients were more likely to die in hospital and develop heart rhythm complications than other Covid patients in a comparison group.
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The death rates of the treated groups were slightly higher for those taking hydroxychloroquine.
The rates were: hydroxychloroquine 18 percent; chloroquine 16.4 percent; control group 9 percent.
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.
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US president Donald Trump previously said he is taking the drug to ward off the virus.
Trump has repeatedly promoted the anti-malarial drug, despite this going against medical advice.
Public health officials have warned hydroxychloroquine could cause heart problems.
Following Donald Trump’s announcement that he had been taking the drug, the British Government advised against taking it.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said: “It’s not something which our own medical experts are recommending.”
The UK Government has said chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are not licensed to treat coronavirus symptoms or to prevent someone from catching the virus.
Hydroxychloroquine can have side effects including headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and stomach pain. More serious side effects can lead to heart issues.
Associate professor in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds Dr Stephen Griffin said hydroxychloroquine is not licensed anywhere.
Doctor Griffin said: “Hydroxychloroquine is not licensed for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or any other agency
“In fact, the weight of evidence from most recent patient tries shows it to be ineffective, with the potential for adverse side effects including those affecting the heart.”
The FDA initially issued an emergency use authorisation to enable the drug to be given to certain patients in hospital, but has since warned against its use outside of clinical trials.
White House physician Sean Conley has said the potential rewards from using the drug outweigh the risks, he wrote: “In consultation with our inter-agency partners and subject matter experts around the country, I continue to monitor the myriad of studies investigating potential COVID-19 therapies, and I anticipate employing the same shared medical decision making based not he evidence at hand in the future.”