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WHO stops hydroxychloroquine trial

May 25, 2020

A peer-reviewed paper warning of the effects of hydroxychloroquine prompted the WHO to stop a clinical trial for the malaria drug. US President Donald Trump said he had taken the drug every day for two weeks.

An arrangement of hydroxychloroquine pills
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Locher

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stopped a clinical trial for hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug US President Donald Trump said he was taking, in COVID-19 patients amid safety concerns.

A paper in the Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, showed that people taking the drug were at higher risk of death and heart problems than those that were not.

Read more:  Coronavirus: Remdesivir is no miracle cure

"This concern relates to the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in COVID-19," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news briefing. 

Dr. Mike Ryan, who heads the WHO emergency program, said the decision to suspend the trial was taken out of "an abundance of caution." The organization will pursue other treatments as part of its study, including the experimental drug remdesivir and an HIV combination therapy.

Last week, Trump told a news conference he was taking hydroxychloroquine every day for two weeks to ward off the new coronavirus. 

'Middle of first wave'

As countries begin relaxing lockdown measures implemented to combat the coronavirus pandemic and prepare for a "second wave" of the virus, Ryan warned that the world is "right in the middle of the first wave."

WHO expert Maria Van Kerkhove also urged all countries to remain on high alert, even those who have had success suppressing the virus.

Read more: 

Coronavirus: Germany weighs controversial triage issue

"We all want this to be over but we have a long way to go," Van Kerhove said.

'Silent epidemic' in Africa

Meanwhile, Tedros said that Africa was the region with the fewest diagnosed coronavirus cases, accounting for less than 1.5% of the world's total and just 0.1% of deaths. The director-general credited the continent's experience with dealing with epidemics for its response to the coronavirus.

However a WHO special envoy Samba Sow said the continent could face a "silent epidemic" if its leaders do not prioritize testing.

"My first point for Africa, my first concern, is a lack of testing is leading to a silent epidemic in Africa. So we must continue to push leaders to prioritize testing," Sow said.

dv/rc (AP, Reuters)

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