Can Hydroxychloroquine help treat corona flu? Can it help in providing prevention against Corona virus? Question has bedevilled minds across the world and has pitched World Health Organization (WHO), scientific community and White House against each other.
Dozens of scientists, from across the world, have now raised concerns over a large-scale study of Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine published by Lancet Journal that led to the World Health Organization (WHO) suspending clinical trials of the anti-viral drugs as a potential treatment for COVID-19.
Hydroxychloroquine is normally used to treat malaria and has also been used to treat arthritis, and is one of an array of drugs being tested as scientists look for potential treatments for coronavirus patients. These speculative clinical trials started when it was observed that Covid-19 was less rampant or less potent in regions of the world – like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – where malaria remains prevalent and there is widespread use of anti-malarial drugs.
Hydroxychloroquine can prevent or treat coronavirus? Trump thinks so
Hydroxychloroquine suddenly became more high profile, because of comments by US President Donald Trump — who announced this month he was taking the drug as a preventative measure against coronavirus. Earlier Trump had forced India to remove a ban on the export of Hydroxychloroquine to United States since he wanted the US medical authorities to use Hydroxychloroquine as treatment trial against corona.
“I take a pill every day,” he said, adding that he combines this with zinc.
Asked why, he said: “Because I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories.”
Trump has shown interest for weeks in promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine, even if some doctors think it does not work for coronavirus patients and US government regulators warn it has “not been shown to be safe.”
Lancet report: skeptical about use of Hydroxychloroquine
The research, that lead to WHO decision against Hydroxychloroquine clinical trials, was published in, the prestigious general medical journal, Lancet on May 22. This research looked at records from 96,000 patients across hundreds of hospitals.
It concluded that treatment with Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, an anti-malarial, showed no benefit and even increased the likelihood of them dying in hospital.
Both drugs can produce potentially serious side effects, particularly heart arrhythmia.
The study found Covid-19 patients who received the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine were dying at higher rates and experiencing more heart-related complications than other virus patients. The large observational study analysed data from nearly 15,000 patients with Covid-19 who received the drug alone or in combination with antibiotics, comparing this data with 81,000 controls who did not receive the drug.
Within days of the research being published the WHO temporarily suspended use of the drugs in its WHO Solidarity trial — which has seen hundreds of hospitals across several countries enrol patients to test possible treatments for COVID-19.
BREAKING: : WHO suspends clinical trial of Hydroxychloroquine, drug touted by Trump as 'coronavirus cure,' over allegations of safety fearshttps://t.co/Rj8GTvd95o
— The HighWire (@HighWireTalk) May 25, 2020
Lancet Report being criticised by Medical Researchers
However AFP and other agencies point out that WHO decision lead to a different kind of reaction from the medical science community. Many suspect that this research published by British journal, Lancet, was not fully credible either as it raised issues of methodology.
“This impact has led many researchers around the world to scrutinise in detail the publication in question,” said the open letter, signed by a number of prominent scientists.
It added this scrutiny raised “both methodological and data integrity concerns”.
The authors list several issues with the study, including a lack of information about the countries and hospitals that contributed to the data, a lack of an ethics review and discrepancies in data for Australia, which did not match published national figures.
“Surgisphere (the data company) have since stated this was an error of classification of one hospital from Asia. This indicates the need for further error checking throughout the database,” the letter from the scientists said.
Among the signatories are clinicians, statisticians and other researchers from around the world, from Harvard University in the United States to the Imperial College London.
Controversial coronavirus study renounced by experts
Francois Balloux of University College London, said he believed it was his “duty” to add his name to calls for answers to questions about the study and for greater transparency.
“I have serious doubts about the benefit of CQ/HCQ treatment for #COVID19 infection, and cannot wait for the whole drama to be over,” he said on Twitter.
I have serious doubts about the benefit of CQ/HCQ treatment for #COVID19 infection, and cannot wait for the whole drama to be over. Though, I believe 'research integrity' cannot be invoked only when a paper doesn't support our preconceptions.
— Prof Francois Balloux (@BallouxFrancois) May 28, 2020
“Though, I believe ‘research integrity’ cannot be invoked only when a paper doesn’t support our preconceptions.”
The letter was also signed by French researcher Philippe Parola, a colleague of the Marseille-based professor Didier Raoult, whose work has been at the forefront of promoting hydroxychloroquine.
In a statement the Lancet, the British medical journal, has admitted that it had received “several questions” over the study.
“We have referred these questions to the authors and they are working to address the issues that have been raised,” it said.
A spokesman for the WHO said a comprehensive review of the drugs was expected to reach a conclusion in mid-June.
“Any decision on the hydroxychloroquine arm of the study must be based in a comprehensive analysis of the available evidence, particularly from concluded and ongoing randomised trials,” said Tarik Jasarevic.
Tensions are already souring between WHO and the US President, Donald Trump who thinks that WHO has helped China to hide facts about the origin of Corona virus and is threatening to withdraw from World Health Organization.
Trump has already suspended US annual payments to WHO. United States assessed annual payments are around US $118 million but it usually contributes much above that. Trump is on record, saying that United States last year contributed around US $450 million. China had contributed only around US $20 million last year and has contributed a total of around US $75 million this year in separate payments.
Herd immunity: another possible coronavirus cure?
“This is a really dangerous, dangerous calculation,” Michael Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s health emergency program, said at a briefing on Monday.
The problem with herd immunity and the novel coronavirus is that the world is nowhere close to having widespread resistance to COVID-19, and is still a long way from developing it. Experts estimate that from 60% to upwards of 90% of a population must have immunity to a disease for it to stop spreading.
It is widely believed that Britain initially wanted to encourage Herd Immunity but then abandoned the idea and went for strict lockdown. Sweden has persisted with the idea to this day. Almost 40,000 people have died in Britain so far (Population: around 65 million) Around 4350 people have died in Sweden with a population of just 10 million.
GVS News Desk with additional input by AFP and other sources.