WHO suspends trials of hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 treatment, cites ‘safety concerns’

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has suspended the trials of hydroxychloroquine — the malaria drug U.S. President Donald Trump says he is taking — from its global study into experimental COVID-19 treatments, saying that its experts need to review all available evidence to date. The announcement was made by WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The executive group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity trial while the safety data is reviewed by the data safety monitoring board. The other arms of the trial are continuing,” Tedros told an online briefing.

“This concern relates to the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in COVID-19,” Tedros said, adding that the drugs are approved treatments for people with malaria or autoimmune diseases. Other treatments in the trial, including the experimental drug remdesivir and an HIV combination therapy, are still being tested.

Tedros said the executive group behind WHO’s global “Solidarity” trial met on Saturday and decided to conduct a comprehensive review of all available data on hydroxychloroquine and that its use in the trial would be suspended for now.

Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, said there was no indication of any safety problems with hydroxychloroquine in the WHO trial to date, but that statisticians would now analyze the information.

“We’re just acting on an abundance of caution based on the recent results of all the studies to ensure that we can continue safely with that arm of the trial,” he said. WHO said it expected to have more details within the next two weeks.

Last week, Trump announced he was taking hydroxychloroquine although he has not tested positive for COVID-19. His own administration has warned the drug can have deadly side effects, and both the European Medicines Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned health professionals last month that the drug should not be used to treat COVID-19 outside of hospital or research settings due to numerous serious side effects that in some cases can be fatal.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are approved for treating lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and for preventing and treating malaria, but no large rigorous tests have found them safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19.

(With agency inputs)

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