The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning of potential hydroxychloroquine side effects after President Donald Trump announced he is taking the anti-malaria drug as a precaution against the coronavirus. Speaking Wednesday, just two days after Trump made the revelation, Dr. Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, recommended the drug's use to treat COVID-19 only in controlled clinical trials.
Acknowledging that "every sovereign nation, particularly those with effective regulatory authorities, is in a position to advise its own citizens regarding the use of any drug," Ryan points out neither hydroxychloroquine nor chloroquine have been "found to be effective in the treatment of COVID-19 or in the prophylaxis against coming down with the disease." Ryan added that "warnings have been issued by many authorities regarding the potential side effects of the drug" and that WHO advises "that for COVID-19 these drugs be reserved for use within such trials."
Similar warnings have been issued by other health professionals and organizations, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In late April, the FDA warned against using hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients outside hospital or clinical trials. The warning, the FDA said, was due to a link between the drugs and "serious heart rhythm problems," which would lead to death in some cases. It recommends that the drugs only be used in settings where patients could be closely monitored. Studies have also suggested that hydroxychloroquine is ineffective when used on patients with coronavirus, with one such study finding that it was linked to a higher death rate.
Hydroxychloroquine, which is approved by the FDA as treatment for other conditions, was touted by Trump early on in his coronavirus response as a promising COVID-19 treatment. It seemed so promising that the president announced in early April that the United States had begun stockpiling the drug. Although the hope surrounding the drug quieted in the following weeks, Trump announced earlier this week that he had been "taking it for about a week and a half" as a precaution. Later addressing the claims and the concerns they prompted, his doctor, Physician to the President Sean P. Conley, said that they discussed evidence for and against hydroxychloroquine and "concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risk."