The World Health Organization (WHO), announced on May 25 in a press briefing, that the clinical trial of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) on COVID-19 patients has come to "a temporary pause", while the safety data of the drug is being reviewed by the safety board. India manufactures as much as 70 percent of the world’s supply of this drug, which was hyped by Donald Trump for being a game changer against the coronavirus. In fact, the US President admitted to even dosing himself with the controversial drug, announcing that he finished the treatment on the same day that WHO placed a pause on the treatment. “And by the way, I’m still here…To the best of my knowledge, here I am,” Trump had said, on the course of his unproven and now suspended treatment.
The WHO initiated the Solidarity Trial—an international clinical trial—to find an effective treatment for COVID-19 more than two months ago. The trial planned to assess the effectiveness of four treatment drugs—including HCQ—and aims to rapidly discover whether any of the drugs slow disease progression or improve survival.
The Lancet, a medical journal, published an observational study on May 22 on HCQ and chloroquine and its effects on COVID-19 patients and reported that it estimates a higher mortality rate and an increased risk of heart problems among patients receiving the drug. “The Executive Group of the Solidarity Trial, representing 10 of the participating countries, met on Saturday and has agreed to review a comprehensive analysis and critical appraisal of all evidence available globally,” said the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The review will consider data collected so far in the Solidarity Trial to "adequately evaluate the potential benefits and harms from this drug.”
According to the WHO, over 400 hospitals in 35 countries are actively recruiting patients and nearly 3,500 patients have been enrolled from 17 countries under the Solidarity Trial. There are currently over 20 trials of HCQ going on in India. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) last week expanded the use of HCQ as a preventive treatment for frontline COVID-19 workers such as the healthcare workers and police personnel.
Ghebreyesus added that the safety concern over the drug was only on the use of HCQ and chloroquine in COVID-19, and "these drugs are accepted as generally safe for use in patients with autoimmune diseases or malaria". He said that the other phases of the Solidarity Trial—including the experimental drug Remdesivir and an HIV combination therapy—will continue.
The American administration had warned the drug could have deadly side-effects, and both, the European Medicines Agency and the US Food and Drug Administration warned health professionals last month that the drug should not be used to treat COVID-19 outside of hospital or research settings due to numerous serious side-effects that in some cases could be fatal too. Like his American counterpart, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has also touted the benefits of the drug. Brazil continues to stand by its decision to use HCQ despite global concerns about the safety of the drug.
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