Coronavirus patients at two UK hospitals are reportedly now receiving hydroxychloroquine treatment. The drug, touted by US President Donald Trump as a “game changer,” quickly came under scrutiny from his political opponents.
According to a report published on Sunday in the Telegraph, Covid-19 patients at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital are being treated with hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug first developed in the 1950s.
“Barts Health NHS Trust has convened an expert clinical group to consider novel medications in the treatment of Covid-19,” a spokesman for the London hospital told the newspaper, adding that a select number of patients have been given hydroxychloroquine.
If the tests at Bart’s and Royal Devon are successful, the drug could then see widespread use at NHS hospitals across the UK.
Its effectiveness is hotly debated among scientists, and evidence for and against its effectiveness is thus far “anecdotal,” to quote President Trump’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Moreover, it is one of several existing medications – including HIV and Ebola drugs – currently showing potential in the treatment of Covid-19.
Trump’s support for the drug has made the hydroxychloroquine debate a political one. The National Institutes of Health began testing its effectiveness on Thursday, but Trump has long been an advocate for its use, describing it as a “game changer” after news media picked up on a promising study by French biologist Didier Raoult last month. French President Emmanuel Macron recently met with Raoult, in a three-hour private meeting Macron’s staff say was part of a wide consultation process.
Trump’s opponents have rounded on him for backing an unproven treatment. Though hydroxychloroquine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the most desperately ill patients, its prescription to outpatients has been banned by Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak (D) and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D). Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) has meanwhile asked pharmacists not to prescribe it, in a bid to prevent hoarding.
Newspapers have talked up its potential side effects, and several jumped on the story of an Arizona couple who died after self-medicating with the drug, while neglecting to mention that the pair had consumed fish tank cleaner, and not actual medication.
Should the British trial find hydroxychloroquine effective, demand for the drug could soar. The drug’s patent has expired, and several manufacturers have ramped up production in recent days. Pharmaceutical firms Novartis, Mylan, Amneal and Teva have all pledged to deliver or donate tens of millions of tablets by the end of April.
India, where 70 percent of the world’s hydroxychloroquine supply is manufactured, slapped a ban on the drug’s export last month, before partially easing the restriction last week under pressure from Trump. A consignment of the medication then touched down in the US on Saturday.
Supporting our partners in the fight against #Covid19. Consignment of hydroxichloroquine from India arrived at Newark airport today. pic.twitter.com/XZ6utQ6JHr
No proven cure or vaccine exists yet for Covid-19. Globally, the virus has infected 1.8 million people and killed more than 112,000.
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