WHO suspends clinical trials with hydroxychloroquine for safety

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The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that it has “temporarily” suspended clinical trials with hydroxychloroquine it is conducting with its partners in several countries, as a precaution.

This decision taken Saturday follows the publication of a study the day before in the medical journal The Lancet deeming ineffective or even harmful the use of chloroquine or its derivatives such as hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19, said the director general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, during a virtual press conference.

WHO launched clinical trials more than two months ago, including hydroxychloroquine, called “Solidarity”, with the aim of finding an effective treatment against Covid-19.

Currently, “more than 400 hospitals in 35 countries are actively recruiting patients and nearly 3,500 patients have been recruited in 17 countries,” said the head of the WHO.

According to the large study published in The Lancet, neither chloroquine nor its derivative hydroxychloroquine prove effective against Covid-19 in hospitalized patients, and these molecules even increase the risk of death and cardiac arrhythmia.

“Temporary” measure

The study analyzed data from approximately 96,000 SARS-CoV-2 infected patients admitted to 671 hospitals between December 20, 2019 and April 14, 2020, discharged or deceased since. About 15,000 of them received one of the four combinations (chloroquine alone or combined with the antibiotic, hydroxychloroquine alone or combined with the same antibiotic), then these four groups were compared to the 81,000 patients in the control group who did not not received this treatment.

The trials conducted by WHO and its partners on hydroxychloroquine will be suspended until “the data” collected by the Solidarity trials “are examined,” said Tedros.

“This is a temporary measure,” said Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, in charge of the Scientific Department at WHO.

Hydroxychloroquine is a derivative of chloroquine, prescribed for several decades against malaria. Known in France as Plaquénil, hydroxychloroquine is prescribed against lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

Hydroxychloroquine has known unprecedented fame since the end of February since French professor Didier Raoult made public several studies, which according to him show an effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine associated with an antibiotic, azithromycin.

The excitement around hydroxychloroquine gained momentum when US President Donald Trump made himself its apostle, to the point of taking it daily as a preventive measure. In Brazil, the Ministry of Health has recommended its use for all mildly affected patients.

Monday, the head of the WHO wished to recall that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine “are recognized as generally safe for patients with autoimmune diseases or malaria”.

Appeared in China in late December, the new coronavirus has killed nearly 345,000 people on the planet. While there is no treatment or vaccine, many countries have started their deconfinement while maintaining safety distances and barrier gestures to avoid a possible second wave.

When questioned about this hypothesis, Michael Ryan, head of the emergency intervention program at WHO, did not rule it out, indicating that it “could be a reality in many countries in a certain number of months”.

But “we cannot deduce from the fact that the disease is receding, that it will continue to do so, and that we will then have several months to prepare for a second wave,” he warned. If we act like this, “we could have a second peak in the wake of the wave” that has just taken place, he added.

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