The World Health Organization has suspended its hydroxychloroquine trial over safety concerns, Bloomberg reported on Monday. The decision comes on the heels of a new peer-reviewed study linking the antimalarial drug to an increased risk of death and various heart problems.
During a press briefing, WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan made a statement regarding the drug’s safety.
“It’s important to continue to gather evidence on the efficacy and safety of hydroxychloroquine. We want to use it if it’s safe and efficacious, reduces mortality, reduces the length of hospitalization without increasing adverse events.”
President Donald Trump has repeatedly lauded hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19 symptoms, even going so far as to say he was taking the drug himself.
However, The Lancet, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, recently published a study including disturbing findings about the drug’s potentially deadly side effects.
NBC News reported that the study’s authors linked the drug to abnormal heart rhythms and noted that “the patients who got the drugs were more likely than the others to die in the hospital.”
The lead author, Dr. Mandeep Mehra, concluded that the drugs “should not be used as treatments for COVID-19 outside of clinical trials.”
In response to The Lancet’s findings, the WHO has opted to play it safe and pause the testing of hydroxychloroquine amid its COVID-19 drug trials. They will continue to study the effects of the drug.
So far, there has been no indication of trouble with the trials, but according to the head of WHO’s health emergency program, Mike Ryan, the choice to halt testing was decided out of an “abundance of caution.”
The testing may eventually resume for hydroxychloroquine in the “so-called Solidarity trials,” if the safety monitoring board decides the risks are mild. Swaminathan said the council will review the results of the data within a few weeks and decide how to proceed from there. She clarified that the other divisions of the trial would continue.
Reactions to the organization’s decision to halt the testing have been mixed on social media. Many users believe the WHO to be corrupt and even going so far as to accuse them of hiding the real trial results.
Those in favor of the suspension noted the drug is typically meant for people battling severe symptoms of malaria and argued it would not help those suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.
“This drug has serious side effects like heart arrhythmias and even psychosis. Unless you going to a malaria infested jungle you shouldn’t be taking it,” tweeted one person in response Bloomberg‘s post.