WHO Halts Hydroxychloroquine Study Amid Health Concerns

The World Health Organization (WHO) has halted an international hydroxychloroquine study, after early clinical trial data suggests the drug may increase the risk of death among COVID-19 patients.

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, hydroxychloroquine has been touted by President Donald Trump and others as a potential treatment, even though there is no data establishing that it is safe or effective, and some studies have suggested that it may unnecessarily expose users to serious heart risks.

On Monday, the WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus indicated that the “Solidarity” trial, which focused on using hydroxycholorquine among COVID-19 patients, was put on hold until further safety data could be reviewed by the organization’s safety board.

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According to preliminary findings from the study published last week in the medical journal The Lancet, use of hydroxychloroquine nearly doubled the risk of death, even after adjusting for underlying conditions.

Although President Trump has suggested on several occasions that Americans should consider using hydroxychloroquine, and recently indicated that he is taking the drug himself to prevent contracting the virus, federal health officials have issued warnings calling for consumers not to take the drug outside of a hospital, and the WHO has previously recommended against use of the drug for COVID-19, except in clinical trials.

Hydroxychloroquine was one of four drug and drug combinations included in the Solidarity trial, which enrolled more than 3,500 patients in 17 countries to examine potential treatments for COVID-19. Other potential treatments include remdesivir, an HIV combination therapy drug still being tested.

Though the hydroxycholoquine clinical trial has been placed on hold while safety data is being reviewed, other arms of the study focusing on other potential treatments are continuing. In addition, WHO officials indicate the pause was done out of an abundance of caution, and if the safety data indicates no additional side effects, the trial may continue.

Hydroxychloroquine is currently only approved by the FDA to treat certain autoimmune conditions, like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as malaria. However, no large clinical trials have shown it is safe to prevent or treat COVID-19 thus far.

WHO researchers indicate they want to use hydroxychloroquine only if it is safe and effective, meaning it should reduce mortality and the length of hospitalization associated with COVID-19, with minimal side effects.


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