The World Health Organization has stopped research into hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug touted by President Donald Trump, as a potential treatment for Covid-19.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the “temporary pause” on Monday after a study published last week found that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine increased the risk of heart problems and death for coronavirus patients, according to the Associated Press.
“This concern relates to the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in Covid-19,” Tedros said. Both drugs are on the WHO’s “Model List of Essential Medicines” for treating malaria and certain auto-immune diseases.
A study published in the medical journal The Lancet on Friday showed the results of a multi-national analysis of the impact of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in patients diagnosed with Covid-19.
“We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, when used alone or with a macrolide, on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19,” the study says. “Each of these drug regimens was associated with decreased in-hospital survival and an increased frequency of ventricular arrhythmias when used for treatment of COVID-19.”
The WHO’s decision comes after Trump announced he had been on a hydroxychloroquine regiment for about two weeks on May 18. The president said many doctors and nurses are already making wide use of the drug for themselves and their patients.
“You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the front-line workers before you catch it. The front-line workers — many, many are taking it,” Trump said. “I happen to be taking it. I happen to be taking it.”
Chloroquine has been in use as an anti-malarial drug since its discovery in 1934 and has been a central part in fighting malaria globally since the 1950s. The efficacy for treating coronavirus patients with chloroquine, and its more stable counterpart hydroxychloroquine, is still being debated by scientists and researchers studying it.
Trump began touting hydroxychloroquine around the same time that a small but promising study by a French researcher appeared to show that the drug helped coronavirus patients recover faster and with less severe symptoms.
Trump’s May 18 announcement elicited strong reactions from pundits and politicians. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump should not be taking the drug because of its dangers to “morbidly obese” people.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later knocked Pelosi and other critics of the president’s announcement for ignoring that the drug has been in wide use for decades and that many doctors are using it to treat Covid-19.
“Some of the misreporting on other networks — these apoplectic [analyses] of hydroxychloroquine — ignore the fact that tens of millions of people around the world have used this drug for other purposes,” McEnany said.
“The president has said pretty widely that this is a drug that he had looked at with optimism,” she added. “But nevertheless he said that this is a decision that must be made with a doctor, as he’s repeatedly said.”
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