Following a study published in the Lancet, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has temporarily stopped a clinical trial on the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in treating COVID-19.
The study published in the Lancet journal on Friday May 22, stated that it found no benefit to the use of the HCQ or its precursor chloroquine in the outcomes of individuals who were given the drug in the early stages of the disease after being diagnosed. A 'multinational registry analysis' was done to reach this conclusion. The outcome of individuals from 671 hospitals in 6 continents who had been admitted in hospitals between December 20, 2019, and April 14, 2020, and were confirmed to be positive for COVID-19 via PCR test and were given the drug was studied.
It further went on to state that the claims of the drugâs efficacy against COVID-19 was based only on a selected few, small uncontrolled studies. These studies claimed that the drug was found to be effective when used with azithromycin, an antibiotic, in reducing the rates at which the virus replicated.
âThe Executive Group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity Trial while the data is reviewed by the Data Safety Monitoring Board. "The other arms of the trial are continuing. This concern relates to the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in #COVID19. I wish to reiterate that these drugs are accepted as generally safe for use in patients with autoimmune diseases or malaria,â stated WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday evening.
Interestingly, the Indian government too had earlier advised the use of the drug for those identified to be at âhigh riskâ of developing the disease. As per an earlier advisory, issued by the National Task Force for COVID-19, constituted by individuals from the Indian Medical Council of Research (ICMR) asymptomatic healthcare workers caring for suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 and asymptomatic household contacts of confirmed individuals were eligible to take the drug.
Several doctors and health experts at the time cautioned against the use of the drug, pointing out that it had potentially severe side effects, including but not limited to causing changes in heart rate.
A revised advisory was later issued by the ICMR on May 22, which went on to include individuals working at non-COVID care hospitals to also be eligible for the use of HCQ on a precautionary basis.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the drug. Several people such as US President Donald Trump, claimed that it was effective in preventing the disease and advised its use, oftentimes calling it a âgame changerâ despite what experts said.
A short while after the first results claiming the drugâs efficacy were released, the Indian government took a stand and stated that it would not be exporting the drug, which is largely manufactured in the country.
This ban was lifted after the US President requested Prime Minister Modi for a supply of the drug, but not before he warned of retaliation if India denied the request.
While the Indian government has yet to take an official stance following the WHOâs decision, several concerns have been raised about the use of the drug going forward.