COVID-19: WHO stops HCQ trial

Coronavirus: WHO stops HCQ trial

 Representative image. (Credit: AFP Photo)

The World Health Organisation has stopped the trial of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19 amidst rising safety concerns on the medicine.

But the Indian Council of Medical Research continues to recommend using HCQ as a preventive medicine, not only for health workers but also for the contacts of the asymptomatic patients.

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"The executive group (of a four-arm drug trial undertaken by the WHO to find a weapon against the pandemic virus) 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," said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Geneva.

The WHO decision comes days after publication of a detailed scientific study that not only ruled out any benefits of the antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 patients but showed that use of these two medicines actually led to higher death rate and heart complications for such patients.

The repurposed use of the anti-malarial caught people's attention after an announcement from the US President Donald Trump that he was on the HCQ as a preventive.

A day after publication of the research findings in the Lancet on May 22, the executive group of the Solidarity Trial, representing 10 of the participating countries agreed to review a comprehensive analysis and critical appraisal of all evidence available globally.

"The review will consider data collected so far in the Solidarity Trial and in particular robust randomised available data, to adequately evaluate the potential benefits and harms from this drug," said Ghebreyesus.

Meanwhile, the apex Indian medical research agency stuck to its position of supporting the HCQ as a preventive medicine.

"Lot of drugs are being repurposed for (Covid-19). Taking biological plausibility, in-vitro data and safety of this drug (HCQ), we recommend it under strict medical supervision. Based on the risk-benefit we found that possibly we should not deny our health workers from using it,"  ICMR director general Balaram Bhargava said here on Tuesday. 

Issued last week, the ICMR's revised guideline, was also categorical in recommending the medicine for front line staff like police personnel and household contacts of asymptomatic positive cases.

"Our advisory says it may be continued to be used as a prophylactic. There is no harm but some benefits may be there. We advised that it should be taken with food. We also made it clear that one ECG needs to be done" he said. 

The ICMR on its own has launched an observational study on the use of HCQ among healthcare workers in five hospitals. The results are expected by August.

"We have seen the Lancet study. We should wait for the results of our study (before commenting)," said Suman Kanungo, the ICMR scientist heading the trial.

Days before the publication of the Lancet study, a group of Chinese researchers derived a similar conclusion about HCQ. 

In their study published in the British Medical Journal, they concluded that administration of HCQ did not result in a significantly higher probability of negative conversion than standard care and adverse events were higher in  HCQ recipients than in non-recipients.  

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