The United States has delivered two million doses of a malaria drug to Brazil for use in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and the two countries are embarking on a joint research effort to study whether the drug is safe and effective for the prevention and early treatment of Covid-19, the White House announced Sunday.

The White House announcement comes after months of controversy over the drug, hydroxychloroquine, which President Trump has aggressively promoted, despite a lack of scientific evidence of its effectiveness as a treatment for Covid-19. Mr. Trump stunned public health experts recently by saying he was taking a two-week course of the medicine.

The donated doses will be used as a prophylactic “to help defend” Brazil’s nurses, doctors and health care professionals against infection, and will also be used as a therapeutic to treat Brazilians who become infected, the White House said.

Hydroxychloroquine is widely used for the prevention of malaria and for treatment of certain autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and many doctors consider it safe. But the Food and Drug Administration has warned that it can cause heart arrhythmias in some patients, and the debate over its use in the coronavirus pandemic has been politically fraught.

Early research in Brazil and New York suggested that it could be linked to a higher number of deaths among hospitalized patients. More recently, a review of a hospital database published by the influential medical journal, The Lancet, concluded that treating people who have Covid-19 with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine did not help and might have increased the risk of abnormal heart rhythms and death.

But last week, more than 100 scientists and clinicians questioned the authenticity of that database. Some researchers say hydroxychloroquine does show promise as a possible prophylactic or treatment in the early stages of Covid-19, and a number of clinical trials — including one conducted by the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases — are trying to answer those questions. Amid the uproar, experts say, legitimate research has suffered.

Source : New York Times

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