HCQ Should Not Be Used for COVID Prevention, Warns WHO

WHO warns against the use of controversial drug Hydroxychloroquine for COVID prevention.

HCQ Should Not Be Used for COVID Prevention, Warns WHO

On Wednesday, 3 March, WHO put out a statement warning against the use of Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to prevent infection in people who don’t have COVID-19.

This ‘strong recommendation’—updated in their latest clinical care covid guidelines—comes after World Health Organisation (WHO) put out a previous recommendation discouraging the use of HCQ for a treatment for COVID altogether.

“The international guideline development panel considers that hydroxychloroquine is no longer a research priority and that resources should be used to evaluate other more promising drugs to prevent.”
World Health Organisation (WHO)

The Rise and Fall of HCQ

The first case of coronavirus in the world was recorded in December 2019, and the virus has since swept across the world at a velocity that didn’t give us time to process it, leaving doctors and scientists grasping at straws to find a suitable antidote to the highly infectious virus.

While the virus was still relatively strange and not much was known about its causes, effects and subsequent forms of treatment, in a bid to counter the skyrocketing cases, doctors turned to drugs that were already in use for the treatment of other infections.

Among these, Hydroxychloroquine—a drug used to treat malaria, and other autoimmune diseases, gained particular attention and would go on to be fraught with controversy.

In March, HCQ was specifically endorsed as a potential treatment and touted as a ‘wonder drug’ for covid after ICMR approved it for use as prophylactic for high-risk patients such as healthcare workers and those directly exposed to COVID-19 patients.

In April, after nearly a month of its approval as a prophylactic, the Union Health Ministry on the recommendation of ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) put out an advisory given out guidelines for its empiric use for treatment but also advising that its usage be limited to select individual, stating that studies on it were still underway.

In May, WHO dropped HCQ from its solidarity trials announcing that it was putting a temporary pause' on reviewing its benefits and harms.

This came after a now-retracted Lancet report that found that the use of HCQ or chloroquine had no benefit on the outcomes in patients when given early after the diagnosis of COVID-19.

Conversely, HCQ’s reputation as a ‘miracle drug’ for covid continued to surge after the former President of the United States, Donald Trump started endorsing it, claiming to use it daily. This prompted a response from medical experts warning of its misuse.

HCQ continued to be used in India as a prophylactic for those who have been exposed to COVID-19, including healthcare workers.

In July, a new study in The New England Journal of Medicine backed the findings that HCQ did not improve the status of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients.

Another study published in the peer-reviewed journal, The BMJ, showed that the effect of HCQ in treating Covid, as compared to standard care was very low.

Why the Experts Advice Against it

Apart from studies pointing to its lack of efficiency in combatting or preventing covid, the side effects and serious risks associated with the drug make it an even less viable option.

“In light of ongoing serious cardiac adverse events and other serious side effects, the known and potential benefits”
The US Food and Drug Administration, in a statement

Besides, the dodgy evidence is not enough to re-allocate the limited HCQ medication for covid treatment when it's indispensable to people suffering from other conditions like Lupus and Arthritis, who started facing a shortage thanks to the initial buzz about the ‘miracle drug’ for covid.

Moreover, relying on HCQ, a life-saving drug for other ailments, known to have low payoff in the case of COVID would be ill-advised considering we now have multiple high efficacy COVID vaccines out.

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