Hydroxychloroquine: COVID “Cure” Linked to 17,000 Deaths

The reason: COVID was found to produce cytokine storms in patients — their immune systems overreacted to the infection — and that was  fatal.

But hydroxychloroquine was not the solution. A somewhat blind hope in the drug came crashing down when the US Food and Drug Administration warned against its use and the WHO discontinued its hydroxychloroquine tests.

How Did Hydroxychloroquine Affect COVID Patients?
It is hard to say exactly how hydroxychloroquine affected COVID patients.

But small-scale studies, for instance, had patients reporting cardiac discomfort or other side effects in the digestive system.

A lack of larger study groups at the time makes it difficult to pinpoint the precise cause of those effects — researchers say they don’t know whether it was the hydroxychloroquine alone, something else, or a combination of factors.

There is every possibility of unforeseen confounding factors that might have contributed to the excess death rate among the [hydroxychloroquine] takers,” said Goswami.

In 2020, an analysis of 96,000 patients initially showed that those treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to suffer irregular heart rhythms. The publication of the results in the journal Lancet halted global trials of hydroxychloroquine for COVID. But the study was then retracted when inconsistencies were found in its data.

This most recent study, the one linking hydroxychloroquine to 17,000 deaths, is a systematic review of studies conducted in the US, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Turkey.

Systematic reviews can be more reliable than individual studies because they combine the results from many different studies — so, you get the benefit of more data.

But that also means that data is fused from studies that may have used different or even conflicting methods. If studies were adjusted for the differences in their methodology, they may even yield completely different results, commented Dr Lars Hemkens, whose paper was one among the 44 reviewed for this research. 

So, there is no consensus yet.

Is Hydroxychloroquine Still Used as a Treatment?
Hydroxychloroquine has been used to treat malaria for decades. It works by reducing pain and inflammation. It is usually consumed for a short period of time, until a person is rid of the disease.

The drug is also used to treat autoimmune disorders, such as lupus. Its anti-inflammatory properties have shown it to reduce the need for higher doses of other lupus treatments.

Patients typically take a small dose of the drug over a long period, sometimes for the rest of their lives.

Most people do not experience side effects, but it sometimes causes stomach pain, digestive problems, such as nausea or diarrhea, dryness of skin or damage to the eyes after prolonged use.

Sushmitha Ramakrishnan Journalist exploring the interplay of science, politics and society. This article was edited by Zulfikar Abbany, and it is published courtesy of Deutsche Welle (DW).