The World Health Organisation (WHO) has suspended trials of the drug that Donald Trump has promoted as a coronavirus defence, fueling concerns about the US president’s handling of the pandemic that has killed nearly 100,000 Americans.
Trump has led the push for hydroxychloroquine as a potential shield or treatment for the virus, which has infected nearly 5.5 million people and killed 345,000 worldwide, saying he took a course of the drug as a preventative measure.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has also heavily promoted hydroxychloroquine while the virus has exploded across nation, which this week became the second most infected in the world after the United States.
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But WHO said Monday it was halting testing of the drug for Covid-19 after studies questioned its safety, including one published Friday that found it actually increased risk of death.
WHO “has implemented a temporary pause... while the safety data is reviewed”, its chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, referring to the hydroxychloroquine arm of a global trial of various possible treatments.
Trump announced last week that he was taking the drug, explaining he had decided to take it after receiving letters from a doctor and other people advocating it. “I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories,” Trump told reporters then, as he declared it safe.
Trump dismissed the opinions then of his own government’s experts, who had warned of the serious risks associated with hydroxychloroquine, with the Food and Drug Administration highlighting reported poisonings and heart problems.
Trump has been heavily criticised for his handling of the virus, after initially downplaying the threat and then repeatedly rejecting scientific analysis.
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The United States has so far seen the world’s highest coronavirus death toll, reaching 98,218 on Monday, with more than 1.6 million confirmed infections.
Despite WHO suspension, Brazil’s Health ministry said it would keep recommending hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 patients. Brazil has reported nearly 375,000 cases and more than 23,000 deaths.