Big study casts more doubt on malaria drugs for coronavirus

Grant Boone
May 23, 2020

Malaria drugs pushed by President Donald Trump as treatments for Covid-19 have been proved to be ineffective according to a new report. Trump and many of his allies had been trumpeting the drug as a miracle cure and Trump this week revealed that he has been taking it to try to ward off the virus - despite an FDA warning last month that it should only be used in hospital settings or clinical trials because of the risk of serious side effects, including life-threatening heart problems.

Medical journal The Lancet's study found that there was a 34 percent increase in death and a 137 percent increased risk of heart arrhythmias in those who received hydroxychloroquine alone.

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. One might also question whether the resources necessary for large studies might be better diverted to other causes, at the same time allowing the drugs themselves to be used for their original objective.

About 15,000 of the 96,000 patients were treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine alone, or combined with an antibiotic known as a macrolide.

The study looked at patient medical records in 671 hospitals across six continents, making it the largest published evaluation of the drug's impacts on coronavirus patients to date.

The death rates of the treated groups were: hydroxychloroquine 18%; chloroquine 16.4%; control group 9%.

The biggest risk increase was seen in the group treated with hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic, where 8 per cent of patients who got the combination developed a heart arrhythmia, compared with 0.3 per cent of those in the comparison group.

Next U.S. coronavirus rescue package not too far off -McConnell
Senators are prepared to leave town for a weeklong Memorial Day break without having acted on any new relief. Senators confirmed a new Federal Election Commission member and is on track to confirm four federal judges.

In a segment on NPR earlier this week, medical researchers and others explored the politicization of drug treatments as a sad development to emerge during the Covid-19 pandemic, with many placing the blame squarely at the feet of a president who has sidelined experts while injecting his own uninformed and often ridiculous claims into the national conversation.

Writing in a linked Comment article, Professor Christian Funck-Brentano, of the Sorbonne University in Paris, France (who was not involved in the study), said: "This well-conducted observational study adds to preliminary reports suggesting that chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, alone or with azithromycin is not useful and may be harmful in hospitalized COVID-19 patients". Those who were given hydroxychloroquine with an antibiotic were at the highest risk. About 14,000 of which received one of four drug cocktails that included chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine.

There was a rush to use the drug in Covid-19 cases after the French doctor Didier Raoult said he was curing his patients at La Timone hospital, in Marseille.

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.

The analysis included data from 671 hospitals across six continents, which pooled together resulted in 96,032 patients who had tested positive for COVID-19 and were hospitalized between December 2019 and April 2020.

- A 45% increase in risk of death for those given hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic, and a 411% increase in risk of serious heart arrhythmias. "I had a two week regimen of hydroxychloroquine, and I've taken it - I think just about two weeks, I think it's another day, so - and I'm still here".

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

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