WHO Suspends Trials of Hydroxychloroquine After Reports of High Death Rates in Coronavirus Patients

The World Health Organization has suspended clinical trials on hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug that President Donald Trump has said he is taking as a preventative treatment for COVID-19. On Friday, a new study showed that coronavirus patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine had a higher rate of death than those without it, potentially spelling bad news for the drug. This is not the first study to show hydroxychloroquine to have a negative impact on COVID-19 patients.

The WHO announced the suspension of hydroxychloroquine trials on Monday, based on the study results published on Friday in the medical journal Lancet. The study analyzed the results of 96,000 COVID-19 patients, and found that the ones who took hydroxychloroquine were more likely to develop heart arrhythmia. This can lead to cardiac arrest, and is dangerous for patients suffering from the severe respiratory illness. Patients in the trial came from six different continents, showing a widespread pattern around the world. While this was the largest study of the drug so far, smaller studies have yielded similar results.

The WHO was conducting a separate study called the Solidarity Trial, according to a report by PEOPLE, which included 3,500 patients in 17 different countries, testing the possible efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and two other drugs. While the other two treatments will continue to be tested, the WHO is suspending all tests of hydroxychloroquine indefinitely. "The Executive Group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity Trial while the safety data is reviewed by the Data Safety Monitoring Board," said WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"While it was still a reporting of observational data, it came from multiple registries and quite a large number of patients, 96,000 patients," added the WHO's chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan. "We decided we should be proactive, err on the side of caution and suspend enrollment temporarily into the hydroxychloroquine arm [of the Solidarity trial]."

Scientists have repeatedly warned that the effects of hydrochloroquine might be the wrong treatment for COVID-19, yet Trump has repeatedly touted it as the most promising treatment. Last week, he stunned Americans when he said that he was taking it as a preventative measure against the virus, though his doctor did not confirm that. On Sunday, he told reporters that he was finished with a two-week course of the drug. For the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization.