Big Study Casts More Doubt on Malaria Drugs for Coronavirus

Large Study Finds No Benefit — and Potential Harm — in Using Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19

There are ongoing randomised, controlled clinical trials to study the drug's effectiveness in preventing infection by the new coronavirus as well as treating mild to moderate Covid-19.

Researchers are searching through available options to treat the coronavirus, which has killed more than 330,000 people, including drugs like the antimalarials that are also already approved to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Some of them are new antibody-based drugs that can neutralize the virus and provide short-lived immunity.

The Lancet study observed more than 96,000 people hospitalised with COVID-19, and showed that people treated with the drug, or the closely related drug chloroquine, had higher risk of death when compared to those who were not given the medicine.

One of the findings of the current study seems hard to ignore: that the drugs increase the risk of risky disturbances in heart rhythms.

"So that's what we do all day long in our clinical care patients ... we balance the risk of the drug, of the therapy, with the benefit". 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.

As per the report, these patients were hospitalized from December 2019 to April 2020 and they had either died or were discharged by April 21, 2020.

Meanwhile, around 1 in 6 patients treated with chloroquine (16.4%) and 22.2% of those who combined it with an antibiotic died during the study.

Patients treated with one of the drugs had a mortality rate of 11.1%, compared with 9.3% for a control sample.


In Switzerland, 17 hospitals are now participating in a World Health Organization (WHO) solidarity study to test the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine. The drug has been tied to unsafe heart rhythm problems.

Some of the difference in the rates of mortality is due to underlying differences between patients who received the treatments and those who didn't.

The study accounted for several "confounding factors", like, age, sex, race or ethnicity, body-mass index. Those answers can only come from large studies in which patients are randomly assigned to either receive the drugs or a placebo.

According to the study published in the Lancet journal on Friday, all the four treatments were linked to a higher risk of death than those who were not administered any of those treatments. Similarly, it is not possible to conclusively infer cause and effect between treatment with these medications and the onset of heart arrhythmias. There was also a 45 percent increased risk of death and a 411 percent increased risk of heart arrhythmias for those given the drug with and an additional antibiotic.

Trump, without evidence, called the veterans study a "Trump enemy statement". A study of 368 USA veterans also showed that the drugs might be potentially harmful.

"Randomized clinical trials will be required before any conclusion can be reached regarding benefit or harm of these agents in COVID-19 patients", the paper said.

Britain has ordered $42 million worth of hydroxychloroquine, despite numerous studies showing it is ineffective in treating Covid-19 and may even be more risky than doing nothing.

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