Hydroxychloroquine 'offers no benefit' to hospital patients with Covid-19

Henrietta Brewer
May 22, 2020

Even though the Lancet study was large, observational look-backs like this "cannot control for every possible factor that may be responsible for observed results", he said.

His comments set off a firestorm of controversy among health experts and physicians who urged the public not to take medications unless prescribed by a doctor.

The study, the largest to-date looking at the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, involved an examination of medical records for 96,000 people hospitalized between December 20 and April 14 at 67 facilities around the world for COVID-19 and treated with the antimalaria drugs.

It comes just days after the United States president's decision to take hydroxychloroquine was described as "a staggering, irresponsible act that could very well also amount to self-harm" and there are fears his actions risk running down supplies of the drug for people with other conditions who need it.

US President Donald Trump has been criticised after he said he had nothing to lose by taking hydroxychloroquine, which is used to treat malaria and arthritis, despite warnings it could be unsafe.

The authors of the new study said neither drug should be used to treat Covid-19 outside of clinical trials and said randomised clinical trials were needed. It is known that the drug can cause heart irregularities, but many have claimed it is safe because of its long use treating malaria.

About 15% of the patients were treated with the antimalaria drugs alone or with an antibiotic within 48 hours of diagnosis.

And those given each drug in combination with antibiotics were even more likely to die: 22.8 per cent with chloroquine and 23.8 per cent with hydroxychloroquine.

"Instead, our findings suggest it may be associated with an increased risk of serious heart problems and increased risk of death".

They also determined that about one in 11 patients who hadn't been treated with either chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine died in hospital, compared to death rates of about one in six for those who took the drugs. "In the meantime, we suggest these drugs should not be used as treatments for Covid-19 outside of clinical trials".

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the school of medicine at the University of Leeds, called for more research but said: "This is potentially a landmark study for Covid-19 therapy". Like all drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have side effects. The other 81,144 patients served as a control group.

The bottom line: The FDA has adamantly warned against taking hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine because of the risk of heart complications and unproven claims it prevents COVID-19 infections.

"Furthermore, it is clear that high-profile endorsements of taking these drugs without clinical oversight are both misguided and irresponsible".

Testing to see if chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine can prevent Covid-19 is open to staff in Brighton and Oxford as part of the investigation led by the Bangkok-based Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU), which is supported by the University of Oxford and charity Wellcome.

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