Despite the suspension of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) trials for the treatment of COVID-19 patients by the World Health Organisation (WHO) over safety concerns, Pakistani health experts said Tuesday that when given in combination with an antiviral drug, HCQ was not only proving effective in treatment of COVID-19 but was also safe for patients with underlying health conditions.
“We are continuously prescribing HCQ tablets for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, and it is not only proving effective for them but is also safe for the patients against the warnings of the World Health Organisation. When used in combination with antiviral drug Oseltamivir (Tamiflu), HCQ is giving positive results and patients are getting cured,” Prof Javed Akram, an eminent professor of medicine and vice chancellor of the University of Health Sciences (UHS) Lahore, told The News on Tuesday.
The Pakistani health authorities had also suspended the clinical trials of anti-malarial drug Chloroquine and its analog Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) for the treatment of COVID-19 patients for the time being last week after the WHO decision to temporarily halt the HCQ study over safety concerns.
“The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) will issue notices to the health facilities carrying the HCQ trials in Pakistan to put them on hold till further instructions,” Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr Zafar Mirza had told The News last week, saying the Executive Group of the Solidarity Trial, representing 10 countries, which met on May 27, 2020, had decided to temporarily suspend the clinical trials of HCQ to reassess the safety data of the drug.
Prof Javed Akram, who is also the chairman of the Pakistan Society of Internal Medicine (PSIM) and former VC of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), Islamabad, claimed that they were doing the largest HCQ trials in Pakistan to ascertain the effectiveness of HCQ and during that they had recruited 950 patients infected with the novel coronavirus who were given HCQ tablets in combination with antiviral drug Oseltamivir and it proved highly effective against the virus.
“Of the 950 patients recruited by us for the HCQ trials, not a single one faced any adverse reaction or problem with the drug. Similarly, nowhere in the world did any patient face any problem while using the HCQ tablets for the treatment of COVID-19,” Prof Akram claimed, adding that it was an inexpensive, safe and effective drug for the treatment of COVID-19 whose trials were stopped at the behest of top multinational pharmaceutical companies of the world.
“WHO has taken a wrong step and stopped the trials of HCQ without any evidence. WHO provided no evidence of any adverse effects of the HCQ. It stopped the trials at the behest of influential multinational pharmaceutical companies, which don’t want to see an inexpensive and readily available medicine proving effective against the novel coronavirus,” Prof Akram charged.
“Despite WHO’s advisory, many people and hospitals are continuously using this inexpensive drug for the treatment of COVID-19 and very soon we would be able to provide its success rate and analysis,” he said, adding that he hoped WHO would resume HCQ’s solidarity trials very soon.
To a query, Prof Akram said they had also been approached to take part in the solidarity trials for another antiviral drug, Remdesivir. which had been developed by US biotechnological firm Gilead Sciences, but he added that they had not yet received the medicine to start the trials. “We have not yet received the drug while recruitment is also underway for the trials. Once we get the medicine, we would commence the trials,” he added.
On the other hand, some other health experts involved in the treatment of COVID-19 patients said they had already stopped the use of HCQ for the treatment of COVID-19 patients as it was proving “ineffective”, well before WHO had announced the suspension of its trials due to concerns over its safety data.
“We had already reduced the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 patients as data indicated that it was not proving very much effective. As far as the trials are concerned, WHO has paused the trials to reassess the safety data so we paused it too,” said Dr Faisal Mahmood, an infectious diseases’ expert at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi.
Over 400 hospitals in 35 countries, including Pakistan, were actively recruiting patients and nearly 3,500 patients had already been enrolled from 17 countries, WHO said, adding that it initiated the solidarity trial two months back to evaluate the safety and efficacy of four drugs and drug combinations against COVID-19.