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The World Health Organization said it will temporarily halt global trials of hydroxychloroquine – the malaria drug President Trump said he was recently taking to prevent the coronavirus infection – and chloroquine after a study showed that hospitalized coronavirus patients taking the drugs have a higher mortality rate.
The “temporary pause” will allow the agency’s experts to review all available evidence to date concerning safety of the drugs when treating patients with COVID-19, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in remarks on Sunday.
“The Executive Group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity Trial while the data is reviewed by the Data Safety Monitoring Board,” Tedros said.
Tedros said the decision was made after a paper published Friday in The Lancet found that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine given to patients hospitalized with the coronavirus had a higher risk of death and heart problems than those who were not given the drugs.
In the study, researchers also concluded that they were unable to “confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine when used alone or with a macrolide, on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19.”
Tedros emphasized that both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are accepted as “generally safe” treatments for people with malaria or auto-immune diseases.
Other treatments in the study, including the experimental drug remdesivir and an HIV combination therapy, are still being pursued, Tedros said.
Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, said there was no indication of any safety problems with hydroxychloroquine in the WHO trial to date.
“We’re just acting on an abundance of caution based on the recent results of all the studies to ensure that we can continue safely with that arm of the trial,” he said.
The drugs have been touted by Trump, who last week said he requested hydroxychloroquine from his physician, Dr. Sean Conley. He said he had been taking it daily for almost two weeks, along with a zinc supplement, after the pair decided the potential benefits outweighed the risks. He recently announced he has stopped taking the drug.
His comments on the drugs drew controversy among health experts and physicians who urged the public not to take medications unless prescribed by a doctor. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has previously warned against the use of the drug outside of hospital settings after receiving reports of “serious heart rhythm problems.”
WHO said it expected to have more details within the next two weeks.
Fox News’ Alexandria Hein and The Associated Press contributed to this report.