Hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug Donald Trump is taking to prevent Covid-19, has increased deaths in patients treated with it in hospitals around the world, a study has shown.
A major study of the way hydroxychloroquine and its older version, chloroquine, have been used on six continents – without clinical trials – reveals a sobering picture. Scientists said the results meant the drug should no longer be given to Covid-19 patients except in proper research settings.
While the paper, published online in the Lancet medical journal, is not a trial designed to assess the drug, it shows that the rush to use it around the world may be ill-advised. Significant numbers of doctors have been prescribing it without evidence. It is known that the drug can cause heart irregularities, but many have claimed it is safe because of its long use treating malaria.
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. The US president then claimed hydroxychloroquine – less toxic than the original chloroquine – was a cure, and later said he was taking it himself against coronavirus.
The drugs are fairly safe for patients being treated for malaria, but Covid-19 is a very different disease. The authors of the paper pulled together results for more than 96,000 patients in 671 hospitals, taking one of the drugs, with or without an antibiotic such as azithromycin, between 20 December and 14 April.
The death rate among all groups taking the drugs was higher than among people who were not given them. One in six of those taking one of the drugs died, while one in five died if they were taking chloroquine with an antibiotic, and one in four if they were on hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic. The death rate among patients not taking the drugs was one in 11.