Tests of hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients have been halted following a recent report that the anti-malarial drug could increase the mortality in coronavirus patients, the World Health Organisation says.
The tests were part of the WHO-led international Solidarity Trial, which aims to find out if existing medications that were developed against malaria, HIV, Ebola and multiple sclerosis could help to treat the COVID-19 coronavirus disease.
Last week, US and Swiss scientists reported in The Lancet journal that hydroxychloroquine and the similar drug chloroquine could lead to higher death rates and heart palpitations.
The medications have not been shown to be effective against COVID-19, they wrote.
A decision has been taken to implement "a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity Trial while the safety data is reviewed," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing from Geneva.
So far, 3500 patients from 17 countries have been enrolled in tests that are being carried out under the umbrella of the Solidarity Trial.
While WHO has been advising against using malaria drugs against the coronavirus as long as the trials are still under way, the Brazilian Health Ministry last week authorised hydroxochloroquine for treating mild as well as severe COVID-19 cases.
US President Donald Trump has made headlines for promoting and taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive drug against COVID-19, but he said on Wednesday that he would soon stop using it.
Tedros stressed that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are safe for treating patients with malaria and certain autoimmune diseases.
© DPA 2020