The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday, 25 May, put on hold clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference that the executive group of the Solidarity Trial – an effort in which hundreds of hospitals around the world have enrolled patients for testing several possible treatments for the novel coronavirus – had suspended trials of the drug as a precautionary measure.
A week earlier, a study was published in The Lancet, which claimed that taking the drug increases the likelihood for a COVID-19 patient to die.
“The Executive Group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity Trial while the safety data is reviewed by the Data Safety Monitoring Board,” said Tedros.
The UN agency’s director-general also emphasised that the “other arms of the trial are continuing.”
Hydroxychloroquine is a drug used to treat arthritis, but public pronouncements from government officials – including United States President Donald Trump, who said he’s taking the medicine – has prompted governments to purchase the medicine in bulk. Brazil’s health minister also backed the drug, as well as the anti-malarial medicine chloroquine, for the treatment of COVID-19 cases.
The Lancet study found that the two drugs can potentially have serious side effects, particularly heart arrhythmia. The study also looked at the records of 96,000 patients across hundreds of hospitals and found that no patient hospitalised with COVID-19 benefitted from the drug.
Tedros clarified that the two drugs are considered “generally safe for use in patients with autoimmune diseases or malaria.”
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan also said that the Solidarity Trial was only looking at hydroxychloroquine and not chloroquine. She stated that the suspension of trials for this drug was only “a temporary measure” – something that WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan seconded, saying that they are only “acting by precaution.”