COVID-19: WHO suspends trial of Hydroxychloriquine as treatment

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…as global cases hit 5.49m, Nigeria with 8,068 cases as of Monday

The World Health Organization on Monday said it had “temporarily” suspended clinical trials of hydroxychloriquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19 being carried out across a range of countries as a precautionary measure.

The decision came after the publication last week of a study in the Lancet indicating that using the drug on COVID-19 patients could increase their likelihood of dying, WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference.

Tedros said that the executive group of the so-called Solidarity Trial, in which hundreds of hospitals across several countries have enrolled patients to test several possible treatments for the novel coronavirus, had as a precaution suspended trials using that drug.

“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,” Ghebreyesus said.

“The other arms of the trial are continuing,” he stressed.

Hydroxychloroquine is normally used to treat arthritis but pronouncement from public figures including US President Donald Trump — who announced last week he is taking the drug — has prompted governments to bulk buy the medicine.

Brazil’s health minister also recommended last week using hydroxychloroquine, as well as the anti-malarial chloroquine, to treat even mild COVID-19 cases.

The Lancet study found that both drugs can produce potentially serious side effects, particularly heart arrhythmia.

And neither drug benefitted patients hospitalised with COVID-19, according to a Lancet study, which looked at the records of 96,000 patients across hundreds of hospitals.

Tedros stressed Monday that the two drugs “are accepted as generally safe for use in patients with autoimmune diseases or malaria.”

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan meanwhile told Monday’s briefing that the WHO-backed Solidarity Trial had been looking only at the effects of hydroxychloroquine and not chloroquine.

The decision on suspending enrolment for trials using hydroxychloroquine was “a temporary measure”, she said.

“We’re just acting by precaution,” WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan agreed

More than 106,000 new coronavirus cases were reported worldwide on Tuesday, which is the highest number of global cases to be reported in one day, the WHO announced. About two-thirds of the cases were reported in four countries: the U.S., Russia, Brazil and the UK.

On Monday, the worldwide count reached 5.49 million cases and 346,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“We still have a long way to go in this pandemic,” WHO Director-General said during a press briefing on Wednesday. “We are very concerned about rising cases in low- and middle-income countries.”

Last week, the WHO held its annual World Health Assembly virtually. During the press briefing, Ghebreyesus applauded the “unprecedented solidarity” among world leaders in discussing the challenges and next steps in the pandemic. He also discussed a “historic consensus resolution” on COVID-19 that more than a dozen leaders signed.

“The resolution sets out a clear roadmap of the critical activities and actions that must be taken to sustain and accelerate the response at the national and international levels,” he said.

The “whole-of-society approach” would create a coordinated response to the pandemic, he added, which would include universal access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. Global clinical trials now include 3,000 patients in 320 hospitals in 17 countries, he said.

“The pandemic has taught and informed many lessons. Health is not a cost. It’s an investment,” Tedros said. “To live in a secure world, guaranteeing quality health for all is not just the right choice, it’s the smart choice.”

President Donald Trump had wrote a letter to WHO and threatened to pull funding and consider withdrawing from the organization if it doesn’t conduct an assessment of its COVID-19 response in 30 days, according to NPR. Trump said the organization mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ghebreyesus told reporters he received the letter and is “looking into it” but didn’t give additional details during the briefing. He added that the WHO has pledged to review its response to the pandemic, though he didn’t say when that would happen.

“WHO calls for accountability more than anyone,” he said. “It has to be done, and when it’s done, it has to be a comprehensive one.”

Mike Ryan, MD, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said he would prefer to wait until the pandemic subsided to reflect on what occurred.

“I, for one, would prefer right now to get on with doing the job of an emergency response,” he said. “Of epidemic control, of developing and distributing vaccines, of improving our surveillance, of saving lives and distributing essential PPE to workers and finding medical oxygen for people in fragile settings, reducing the impact of this disease on refugees and migrants.”

Nigeria confirms 229 new cases, seven deaths

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on Monday announced 229 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, bringing the new tally of confirmed infections in the country to 8, 068.

Also, seven deaths were recorded on Monday bringing the total number of confirmed deaths from the virus to 233.

The health agency in a late tweet on Monday said the 229 new cases were reported in 15 states. These are Lagos , Katsina, Imo, Kano, Federal Capital Territory (FCT,) Plateau, Ogun, Delta, Borno Rivers, Oyo, Gombe, Osun, Anambra, and Bayelsa.

There was a drop in the number of infections reported on Monday (229) compared to the number reported on Saturday (313).

The number of reported cases in Lagos, the epicenter of the outbreak in Nigeria, was also the highest daily figure for the day.

“Till date, 8,068 cases have been confirmed, 2,311 cases have been discharged and 233 deaths have been recorded in 34 states and the Federal Capital Territory,” it said.

The 229 new cases are reported from 15 states: Lagos – 90, Katsina – 27, Imo – 26, Kano – 23, FCT – 14, Plateau – 12,Ogun – 9, Delta – 7, Borno – 5, Rivers – 5, Oyo – 4, Gombe – 3, Osun – 2, Anambra – 1 and Bayelsa – 1.

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