WHO Temporarily Suspends Anti-Malaria Drug Trials In COVID-19 Patients

Report By Nandika Chand | Kashmir Srinagar | Last Updated at May 26 2020

The World Health Organization (WHO) has suspended anti-malarial drug, hydroxychloroquine, trials in COVID-19 patients amid safety concerns. A clinical trial in China also showed that hospitalised patients with mild to moderate persistent COVID-19 who received the anti-malarial drug did not clear the virus more quickly than those receiving standard care.

Absence of an effective treatment against the novel coronavirus has led clinicians and scientists to redirect drugs that are known to be effective for other medical conditions to the treatment of COVID-19. And hydroxychloroquine seemed had been regarded highly because of its antiviral properties.

Moreover, the US President Donald Trump had promoted the use of this anti-malarial drug to fight the pandemic. He even announced that he was taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19. “I happen to be taking this drug because there’s a very good chance the drug works against infections and especially early on as a preventive measure,” Trump said. The White House in a statement had said they concluded that the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks.

However, accumulating trial and observational evidence has brought forth there are no meaningful clinical benefits for patients with COVID-19. Experts said hydroxychloroquine can reduce inflammation, pain and swelling. It is being widely used to treat rheumatic diseases. But experts have also raised alarms against the drug’s use outside clinical trials or hospital settings due to teh risk of heart rhythm problems.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said evidence shows harmful side effects, including heart disease, of the anti-malaria drug. He highlighted the latest study published in Lancet that hydroxychloroquine might even increase deaths. WHO’s chief scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan said their investigations and regulators in individual countries have raised enough red flags to halt further trials. “The steering committee met over the weekend and decided that in the light of this uncertainty that we should be proactive, err on the side of caution and suspend enrollment, temporarily, into the hydroxychloroquine arm,” she said. “Its a temporary measure.”

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