The United States has supplied Brazil with two million doses of hydroxychloroquine for use against the coronavirus, despite medical warnings about risks associated with the anti-malaria drug.
The White House released a joint announcement on the drug, whose use has been touted both by U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. In fact, Trump said in mid-May that he was on a regimen of hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.
Interestingly, cancer patients with COVID-19 who were treated with a drug combination of hydroxychloroquine – to counter the coronavirus were three times more likely to die within 30 days than those who got either drug alone. “Treatment with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin were strongly associated with increased risk of death,” says Dr. Howard Burris, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
Last week, European governments suspended a second global trial and halted the use of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients. The moves by France, Italy and Belgium is followed by the World Health Organization’s decision to pause a large trial of hydroxychloroquine due to safety concerns.
Trials in several countries were temporarily suspended as a precaution, the WHO said last week. This came after a study in the medical journal, The Lancet, said there were no benefits to treating coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine, and that taking it might even increase the number of deaths among those in the hospital with the disease. Hydroxychloroquine is safe for malaria, and conditions like lupus or arthritis, but no clinical trials have recommended its use for treating Covid-19. The report also suggested that hydroxychloroquine could increase the risk of patients dying from Covid-19.
Two months back the U.S. Food and Drug Administration too, issued a ‘Drug Safety Communication’ regarding known side effects of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, including serious and potentially life-threatening heart rhythm problems, that have been reported with their use for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19, for which they are not approved by the FDA. Hackensack Meridian Health, one of New Jersey’s health network, utilized its large observational database of more than 3,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients to show that the touted malaria treatment, hydroxychloroquine, does not improve survival for hospitalized patients.
The high promotion of this drug by the US President also has put pressure on the demand and proved to be difficult for people to get it who need it. More than one-third of people with lupus experienced significant issues filling their hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) prescriptions during the COVID-19 pandemic according to results of a survey conducted by the Lupus Research Alliance (LRA). This survey was conducted on 200 people who had been taking hydroxychloroquine for an average of 11.4 years, and 31% of people surveyed had issues getting refills.
After all the major global organisations banning or halting the experiments on the drug, there is also an agency demanding an ‘over-the-counter’ sale of hydroxychloroquine. According to the Association of American Physicians & Surgeons (AAPS) permitting over-the-counter (OTC) use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) under an emergency Executive Order may be the only way to allow patients to protect themselves. AAPS has claimed that HCQ is safer than other OTC drugs, including aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), and Plan B. It has been used for more than 65 years in hundreds of millions of patients and has been available OTC in many places. They claim that no vaccine in history has been as safe and also no COVID-19 vaccine is currently available, and if one is approved, it will be on the basis of rushed and limited testing.
It seems like the patients will now have to decide for themselves, the medication they need to use to protect themselves. Once in the hospital, patients generally lose the ability to choose their treatment, and under such contradictory statements over a drug, prevention is the only way for people to stay safe.