COVID-19 treatment: WHO halts Hydroxychloroquine trial over safety concerns
The World Health Organization (WHO) has suspended the trial exploring anti-malarial drug Hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment of COVID-19. The tests were being carried out to determine the efficacy of the drug in fighting the disease, but certain safety concerns flagged by experts have prompted the UN health agency to stop all of them. Here are more details.
Hydroxychloroquine is an old drug that is used to prevent and treat malaria. According to the Indian government, certain pre-clinical studies have found the drug to be effective as a prophylactic against the novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Over the last two months, it has been exported to the US and other countries to be tested as a potential treatment for the deadly viral infection.
After carrying out weeks of Solidarity trials with Hydroxychloroquine, WHO has now suspended the tests temporarily around the world. The decision comes as a precaution in light of a study - published in The Lancet - that said the drug has no benefit in treating COVID-19 patients and might even increase the risk of dying for those who are critically ill due to it.
In The Lancet study, nearly 15,000 of 96,000 coronavirus patients were given Hydroxychloroquine or a related form of chloroquine alone or with an antibiotic. The rest of the patients were given different therapy. The results of the work revealed that the people in the group taking Hydroxychloroquine were far more likely to die and develop heart rhythm complications than those in the other group.
Owing to the concerns raised by the study, WHO will conduct a safety assessment of the drug in a week or two. Then, if the data warrants, the tests might be resumed, said Mike Ryan, WHO's Head of Health Emergencies program. "There's no signals from the trials that indicate any problem and the decision was made out of an 'abundance of caution'," Ryan emphasized.
"It's important to continue to gather evidence on the efficacy and safety of Hydroxychloroquine," WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said at a press briefing. "We want to use it if it's safe and efficacious, reduces mortality, reduces the length of hospitalization without increasing adverse events."
The action from WHO comes days after President Trump said he was taking Hydroxychloroquine to fight off the virus. Trump, who has tested negative for COVID-19 at least twice, has been pushing the drug, even calling it a 'game-changer', despite the warnings from public health officials that it could cause heart ailments. So far, no clinical study has recommended the drug for COVID-19 treatment.