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Use of chloroquine to treat Covid-19 is risky: French health minister

French Health Minister Olivier Véran.
French Health Minister Olivier Véran. REUTERS - POOL

French health minister Olivier Véran on Saturday asked the country’s health council for advice on the use of malaria drug chloroquine against the Covid-19 virus. His remarks come after the publication of an scientific article critical of the use of the substance.


According to an article published by medical journal The Lancet on 22 May, "using chloroquine or (its derivative) hydroxychloroquine to treat patients with Covid-19 might be hazardous", and that the substances have been used "despite proof of efficiency."

The article says that the drugs may be "associated with cardiac toxicity" and influence the heart rate, potentially leading to ventricular fibrillation and, eventually, death.

The Lancet quotes a study by Professor Mandeep Mehra, Medical Director of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The study took in information of 96,032 Covid-19 patients in 671 hospitals world-wide – the largest such study to date, with almost 15,000 of them treated with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine.

"Decreased survival"

Mehra and his colleagues were "unable to confirm the benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine on … outcomes for Covid-19," and even attributed to "decreased in-hospital survival" and an increased rate of irregular heartbeat.

"Following the publication in The Lancet of an alarming study on the lack of efficiency and the risks of certain treatments of Covid-19, among which hydroxychloroquine, I reached out to the High Council of Public Health (HCSP) so as to analyse and propose, within 48 hours, a reevaluation of prescription regulations," French health minister Olivier Véran said in a tweet on Saturday.

Véran's remarks run counter to a growing trend set by proponents for the use of chloroquine to treat Covid-19 patients. 

In earlier this year, some 400,000 people in France signed a petition urging health officials to let more doctors prescribe the drug to coronavirus patients.

The French petition on the website was launched in early April by a group of doctors including Philippe Douste-Blazy, a cardiologist and former French health minister.

The petition was in support for the approach advocated by the controversial Didier Raoult, a leading doctor and microbiologist based in Marseille.

Cure for corona patients?

In April, French President Emmanuel Macron held lengthy talks with Raoult, of the Mediterranée Infection Foundation in Marseille, who claims a derivative of an anti-malaria drug is a cure for patients with coronavirus.

Professor Raoult combines hydroxychloroquine with an antibiotic, azithromycine, and uses it on Covid -19 patients before their symptoms necessitate admission to intensive care units.

Last month, Raoult published the conclusions a study concluding that "hydroxychloroquine, combined with azithromycine, administered immediately after diagnosis is an effective treatment, without danger, against Covid-19.".

According to the website the treatment was used for at least 3 days on 1061 Covd-19 patients.

"Adverse effects"

But more and more studies have shown different conclusions. On 14 May, a French study headed by Professor Matthieu Mahévas of 84 patients did "not support the use of hydroxychloroquine in patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 who require oxygen."

On the same day, a Chinese study of 150 Covid-19 positive patients, carried out by Professor Tang Wei of the Institute of Respiratory Diseases, School of Medicine, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China pointed out that administration of hydroxychloroquine did not result in significantly more people showing signs of being cured.

On the contrary, Tang said that "adverse events were higher in hydroxychloroquine recipients than in non-recipients," citing diarrhea as the most common adverse effect, but not mentioning heart problems.

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