WHO says hydroxychloroquine does not help against COVID, ends trial

Decision comes after study shows little to no benefit from malaria drug and lopinavir/ritonavir against coronavirus; world health body also says no increase in mortality found

In this on May 19, 2020 file photo, a chemist holds a pack of hydroxychloroquine tablets in Mumbai, India. (AP/Rafiq Maqbool)
In this on May 19, 2020 file photo, a chemist holds a pack of hydroxychloroquine tablets in Mumbai, India. (AP/Rafiq Maqbool)

The World Health Organization said it was ending a trial into whether anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine helps patients hospitalized with COVID-19 Saturday, after a trial showed no clear benefit from the treatment.

WHO said it has “accepted the recommendation” from the committee overseeing the trial to discontinue testing of hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir, a drug combination used to treat HIV/AIDS. The drugs were being compared with standard care for hospitalized patients.

A review of the interim results showed hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir “produce little or no reduction in the mortality of hospitalized COVID-19 patients when compared to standard of care,” the UN body said.

The agency added that while there was no “solid evidence” of increased mortality for hospitalized patients given the drugs, there were “some associated safety signals in the clinical laboratory findings” of an associated trial.

WHO says the decision won’t affect possible trials on patients who aren’t hospitalized, or on those receiving the drugs before potential exposure to the coronavirus or shortly afterward.

Successive studies have cast doubt on hydroxychloroquine as an effective treatment against COVID-19.

A UK study in June found that the malaria drug was not working against the coronavirus. The study enrolled more than 11,000 patients in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who were given either standard of care or that plus one of several treatments: the HIV combo drug lopinavir-ritonavir, the antibiotic azithromycin; the steroid dexamethasone, the anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab, or plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 that contains antibodies to fight the virus.

The drug had been highly touted by US President Donald Trump, who had encouraged Americans to take it as a prophylactic despite no rpoof of health benefits or safety. In April, Israel paid for five tons of the ingredients needed to make the drug to be shipped from India. A government official later said that Israel had decided to stockpile the drug, just in case it turned out to be helpful.

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