Researchers searching for approved drugs that could be reused as COVID-19 treatment had started testing hydroxychloroquine, usually used for treatment arthritisand chloroquine, an anti-malaria.
Both drugs can cause potentially serious side effects, especially cardiac arrhythmia, leading many experts to warn against their use outside of clinical trials.
But that has not stopped prominent people like U.S. President Donald Trump supporting hydroxychloroquine despite a lack of evidence of its effectiveness.
After rising in the debate, on May 22, The Lancet published a study of nearly 100,000 coronavirus patients who showed no benefit in treating them with the two drugs – and even increased the likelihood of them dying in hospital.
This led World Health Organization to suspend clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine, but dozens of scientists have since raised concerns about the study’s method.
The Lancet corrected some of the data, but scientists have come to their conclusions.
Countries around the world vary according to their own policies.
The study asks several countries to stop the use of hydroxychloroquine.
France does so on May 27, days after controversial French physician Didier Raoult – whose own method has been questioned – rejected the study and stood by his belief that the drug could help patients recover from the virus.
Other countries, including Italy, Egypt, Tunisia, Colombia, Chile, El Salvador, Cape Verde, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, also prohibit the use of COVID-19 patients, although this is still possible in clinical trials in Italy.
Hungary, meanwhile, does not use the drug “for newly diagnosed patients” but continues to do so “for patients who have already started taking it,” according to a government spokesman.
Even before the study, some countries had stopped using hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 patients.
Sweden had used the drug in the early stages of the pandemic to treat patients with severe symptoms, but stopped using it in April after the European Medicines Agency recommended it be used only in clinical trials.
Germany had also assessed that the current studies did not allow the drug to be used on individual COVID-19 patients and that it could only be used in clinical trials.
Several countries continue to promote the use of hydroxychloroquine in the fight against the virus.
These include Brazil, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, Romania, Portugal, Kenya, Senegal, Chad and the Republic of Congo.
Russia, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have not yet suspended the use of the drug, and in Iran, recent prescriptions on social media show that virus patients are still receiving it there.
Thailand also still uses hydroxychloroquine in its treatment of COVID-19 patients, and India and Venezuela continue to use the drug as a preventative measure.
Cuba also uses the drug, but will review its protocols to introduce additional precautions.
In the United States, hydroxychloroquine can only be given in principle to COVID-19 patients in the hospital, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned in April that the drug could have a potentially harmful effect on the heart.
Trump had promoted the use of the drug and even said he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a precaution before shortly after announcing the investigation he said he had stopped.
The study has led to the suspension of the use of the drug in several clinical trials, including the WHO Solidarity Trials and Europe’s Discovery Program coordinated by the French Inserm Research Institute.
Copcov international lawsuit also suspended the use of doses on medical personnel in contact with the virus.
Two trials led by the University of Tuebingen clinic in Germany and five trials in Denmark have also been suspended, and Mali says it is ready to suspend its clinical trials.
But other clinical trials are continuing, such as the recovery trial in the UK, that of McGill University in Canada and those taking place in Nigeria and Mexico.
In China, the drug is used only in clinical trials, but its potential as a treatment considered promising by the University of Wuhan in February has since been discussed by a respected hospital in Shanghai.