Defiant Brazil to Keep Treating COVID Patients with Hydroxychloroquine Despite WHO Stricture

The World Health Organization (WHO) has stopped clinical trials on hydroxychloroquine, citing risks highlighted in Lancet study.

The Brazilian health ministry has said the country will keep treating coronavirus patients with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and its more toxic predecessor chloroquine. The statement was issued after the World Health Organization's (WHO) decision to halt clinical trials using hydroxychloroquine on Covid-19 patients.

WHO took the decision after a study showed that the anti-malarial drug does more harm than good by increasing the risk of death and causing serious heart arrhythmia. Despite the serious risks, Brazilian health ministry official Mayra Pinheiro said on Monday that "there will be no change" in the nation's coronavirus treatment guidelines. With over 376,500 coronavirus cases and more than 23,000 associated deaths, Brazil has the second-highest caseload in the world and has emerged as the new epicenter of novel coronavirus outbreak.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Wikimedia Commons

Due to the suspension of hydroxychloroquine trials by the WHO, questions have been raised over Brazil's strategy to treat COVID patients. Last week, a guideline was issued to the doctors which recommended either hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine to be given to patients, since the onset of coronavirus symptoms.

At a press conference on Monday, Pinheiro said that there will be no change in the coronavirus guidelines issued to the doctors, AFP reported. Guidelines were issued right after Brazil's then health minister Nelson Teich resigned following President Jair Bolsonaro's push for hydroxychloroquine. Teich was Brazil's second health minister in less than a month. His predecessor Luiz Henrique Mandetta was sacked as Bolsonaro downplayed the coronavirus crisis and called for a relaxation of social distancing guidelines, while Mandetta defended such policies, Guardian reported.

WHO Halts Hydroxychloroquine Study

The world health body stopped the clinical trials on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients after a study published in the Lancet found that the anti-malarial drug caused more deaths among COVID patients. It also caused serious cardiac arrhythmia, which refers to a condition in which the lower chamber of the heart beats rapidly and irregularly. For the study, researchers analyzed data of over 96,000 Covid-19 patients from 671 hospitals in six continents.

On Monday, Pinheiro also raised questions on the Lancet study. "It wasn't a clinical trial", she said. According to her, it was just a data set collected from different countries, which doesn't meet the criteria of a methodologically acceptable study. And thus, it cannot serve as a reference for any country in the world, including Brazil.

Hydroxychloroquine has been in use since the 1950s and is used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It was touted as a coronavirus cure after French doctor Didier Raoult said that he was using it to treat COVID patients. Among its backers are the U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Related topics : Coronavirus