Studies see ‘no benefit’ in hydroxychloroquine treatment for Covid-19 patients

Hydroxychloroquine tablets on sale at a pharmacy in New Delhi, India, on April 27, 2020.
Hydroxychloroquine tablets on sale at a pharmacy in New Delhi, India, on April 27, 2020. © Sajjad Hussain, AFP

Treating Covid-19 patients with the anti-inflammatory drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) had no positive effect and caused other health complications, two new studies showed Friday.


The drug has been touted by US President Donald Trump among others as a potential "game changer", after initial studies in lab settings showed it may be able to prevent the virus replicating. 

But several subsequent studies — including one funded by the US government —appear to have doused hopes that HCQ can help patients hospitalised with Covid-19. 

In the first study released Friday, researchers in France monitored 181 patients hospitalised with pneumonia due to Covid-19 and who needed oxygen. 

Eighty-four were treated with HCQ and 97 were not.

They found no meaningful difference between the groups for either transfer to intensive care, death within seven days or developing acute respiratory distress syndrome within 10 days.

"Hydroxychloroquine has received worldwide attention as a potential treatment for Covid-19 because of positive results from small studies," said the authors of the research, published in the BMJ journal. 

"However, the results of this study do not support its use in patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 who require oxygen," the authors added.

A second study saw researchers in China split 150 Covid-19 patients into two groups, one of which received HCQ.

After four weeks tests revealed similar rates of sustained infection among both groups, though adverse reactions to treatment were more common in the HCQ group.  

Nor did the severity or duration of symptoms differ between each group.

Neither trial was placebo-controlled, generally considered the gold standard for clinical data.

Hydroxychloroquine has been used for decades to treat the autoimmune disorders lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, while its related compound chloroquine is used against malaria.

>> ‘Let hospitals decide,’ experts warn, as chloroquine hype triggers rush on pharmacies

HCQ has been the subject of much debate in France, where “maverick” Professor Didier Raoult claimed to have successfully treated Covid-19 patients using a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin.

However, doctors have questioned the value of Professor Raoult’s study, saying it was poorly designed and based on too small a sample to offer hard evidence of benefit.

Last month the European Medicines Agency warned that there was no indication HCQ could treat Covid-19 and said some studies had seen serious and sometimes fatal heart problems in patients.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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