The World Health Organization said on Monday that it had "temporarily" suspended clinical trials with hydroxychloriquin as a potential treatment for COVID-19, which is being carried out as a precaution in a number of countries.
The decision was made following the publication of a Lancet study last week that indicated that the use of the drug in COVID-19 patients could increase the likelihood of death, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a virtual press conference.
Tedros said the executive group of the so-called solidarity study, in which hundreds of hospitals in several countries have taken patients to test several possible treatments for the novel coronavirus, have put a precautionary trial on this drug.
"The executive group has introduced a temporary pause in the hydroxychloroquine arm as part of the solidarity effort while the safety data is being reviewed by the Data Safety Monitoring Board," said Tedros.
"The other arms of the process continue," he said.
Hydroxychloroquine is typically used to treat arthritis, but statements from public figures, including U.S. President Donald Trump, who announced last week that he is taking the drug, have caused governments to buy the drug in large quantities .
The Brazilian Minister of Health also recommended the use of hydroxychloroquine and malaria chloroquine to treat even mild COVID-19 cases last week.
The Lancet study found that both drugs can cause potentially serious side effects, especially irregular heartbeats.
According to a Lancet study that looked at the records of 96,000 patients in hundreds of hospitals, none of the patients benefited from hospitalizations with COVID-19.
Tedros stressed on Monday that the two drugs are "recognized as generally safe for use in patients with autoimmune or malaria."
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told Monday’s press conference that the WHO-supported solidarity process had only examined the effects of hydroxychloroquine, not chloroquine.
The decision to suspend registration for studies with hydroxychloroquine was "a temporary measure," she said.
"We only act as a precaution," agreed WHO chief Michael Ryan.
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