Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, which US President Donald Trump says he has been taking, is tied to increased risk of death in COVID-19 patients, according to a study published in medical journal The Lancet on Friday.
The study, which observed more than 96,000 people hospitalised with COVID-19, showed that people treated with the drug, or the closely related drug chloroquine, had a higher risk of death when compared with those who had not been given the medicine.
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Demand for hydroxychloroquine, a drug approved decades ago, surged after Trump touted its use as a coronavirus treatment in early April. Earlier this week, he surprised the world by admitting he was taking the pill as preventive medicine.
The Lancet study authors suggested these treatment regimens should not be used for COVID-19 outside of clinical trials until results from clinical trials are available to confirm the safety and efficacy of the medications for COVID-19 patients.
The authors said they could not confirm if taking the drug resulted in any benefit in coronavirus patients.
The study was based on a retrospective analysis of medical records. It looked at data from 671 hospitals, where 14,888 patients were given either hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, with or without the antibiotic macrolide, and 81,144 patients were not on any of the treatment regimens.
A similar analysis in the US found similar results. That study, funded in part by the US government’s National Institutes of Health, found higher overall mortality in coronavirus patients who took hydroxychloroquine while in Veterans Administration hospitals. It found no benefit and more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine versus standard care alone. The work was posted online for researchers and has not been reviewed by other scientists.
Trump, without evidence, called the veterans study a “Trump enemy statement”.
“If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old, almost dead,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.
Weeks ago, Trump had promoted hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment based on a positive report about its use against the virus, but subsequent studies found that it was not helpful and came with risks. The US Food and Drug Administration in April issued a warning about its use.