A new study says hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, puts COVID-19 patients at a higher risk of death.
The study, titled “Chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19: Why might they be hazardous?” published on Friday in the Lancet journal, highlighted that patients who took chloroquine, which hydroxychloroquine is derived from, were also more likely to develop irregular heart rhythms.
Chloroquine is a synthetic drug introduced in the 1940s. It is a member of an important series of chemically related agents known as quinoline derivatives. Hydroxychloroquine is a related compound that was introduced in 1955.
Both drugs are used in the treatment of tropical diseases such as malaria and amebiasis, a parasitic disease also known as amebic dysentery. They are also useful in the treatment of various skin conditions and diseases of the joints such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
U.S. President Donald Trump had at a press briefing in the White House said he had been using hydroxychloroquine to protect himself against COVID-19.
However, Nigeria’s Presidential Task Force (PTF) on coronavirus at a daily briefing warned Nigerians against using the drug. It said the drug has not been declared a cure for the disease and further warned of the possibility of chloroquine poisoning if one indulges in self-medication with the drug.
Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, who was the index case of COVID-19 in his state, had told journalists early this month that he was administered with Chloroquine, Zithromax, and Vitamin C during his successful treatment for the disease.
The governor said COVID-19 patients in the state would, henceforth, be treated with the drugs. He said he would rather ask medics managing the state’s COVID-19 patients to treat them with chloroquine and Zithromax than watch them die of the disease.
The National Agency for Food Administration and Control (NAFDAC), in an apparent reaction to the governor’s statement, warned Nigerians not to use any drug for the treatment of COVID-19 that is not approved by the NCDC.
“The agency is concerned about reports on social and other media of drugs or vaccines to cure COVID 19,” NAFDAC’s Director-General, Mojisola Adeyeye, had said in a statement.
Chloroquine was widely used in Nigeria and other parts of the world where malaria is endemic until it was abolished after people started developing resistance to it, a senior resident neurologist with the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, Daniel Otokpa, told PREMIUM TIMES.
He said some chloroquine also affects the proper functioning of the eyes and the ears.
“But that wasn’t the reason it was abolished,” he said, stressing that it was dropped because studies revealed that people were developing resistance to it.
The new study on the drug and COVID-19 looked at more than 96,000 patients from 671 hospitals across six continents.
Researchers of the study at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and other institutions looked at patients who were hospitalised with COVID-19 between December 20 and April 14.
It said 14,888 patients were treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, either alone or in combination with a macrolide. The remaining 81,144 patients were in the control group.
It said nearly 10,700 patients died in the hospital. The study found that after controlling for multiple factors, including age, race, sex and underlying health conditions, there was a 34 per cent increase in the risk of mortality for patients who took hydroxychloroquine and a 137 per cent increased risk of serious heart arrhythmia.
The study revealed that hydroxychloroquine is known to have serious side effects, including muscle weakness and heart arrhythmia.
According to CNBC news, a small study in Brazil was halted for safety reasons after coronavirus patients taking chloroquine developed arrhythmia, including some who died.
It said Hydroxychloroquine, which has been repeatedly touted by Mr Trump as a potential game changer in fighting the coronavirus, is also often used by doctors to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Numerous clinical trials are looking to see if it is effective in fighting the coronavirus, but it is not a proven treatment.