A day after US President Donald Trump created a global furor after announcing that he has been consuming the controversial anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a prevention against the coronavirus, Britain launched an international trial to give the drug to frontline health workers in different continents battling the virus. Deemed to be the largest multinational interventional clinical study into the prevention of COVID-19, the trial would begin Thursday.

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Called COPCOV, the trial led by the University of Oxford in association with the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok, would see the anti-malarial drugs, hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, or a placebo, be given to 40,000 healthcare workers from Europe, Africa, Asia and South America.

The trial is open to anybody who is involved in direct contact with coronavirus patients and has not been tested positive for the virus. It aims at ascertaining the theory behind the anti-malarial drugs being an effective cure and protection against the virus

Participants Would Receive Doses of Anti-Malarial Drug or Placebo

The trial involves research teams from the UK, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Italy. The BBC reported that the first UK participants in the trial are being enrolled at the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

For three months the participants in the UK, Europe and Africa, will be given doses of either hydroxychloroquine or a placebo. Similarly, those in Asia and Latin America would be receiving chloroquine or a placebo as part of the trial.

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The BBC quoted Prof Nicholas White, one of the study's leaders, at the University of Oxford as saying: "We really do not know if chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine are beneficial or harmful against Covid-19. A randomized controlled trial such as this one, where neither the participant nor the researchers know who has been given the drug or a placebo, is the best way to find out."

Prof Martin Llewelyn from Brighton and Sussex Medical School, who is also leading the study, said: "A widely available, safe and effective vaccine may be a long way off. If drugs as well-tolerated as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could reduce the chances of catching Covid-19, this would be incredibly valuable."

Results of Trial Expected at the End of 2020

Al Jazeera reported that 25 study sites are expected to be open in the UK by the end of June, with plans for further sites in Thailand and Southeast Asia, Italy, Portugal, Africa and Latin America. The results from the study are expected at the end of 2020. "We are looking at this with great care and examining all of the evidence that is out there," the UK Security Minister James Brokenshire said.

Hydroxychloroquine, a prescription drug used for acute malaria and certain types of arthritis, has been mired in controversy ever since the outbreak of the virus in December last year. Leading health experts and medical professionals have warned against using the drug for the coronavirus, which can cause severe side effects, including cardiovascular disorders.

The US Food and Drug Administration has also warned against use of the medication outside hospitals, where the agency has granted temporary authorization for its use in some cases, or clinical trials, reported ITV.