A couple of days back, US President Donald Trump told the world he’s taking the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to ward off coronavirus, despite there being zero concrete evidence that it can help prevent COVID-19 in humans.
Generally speaking, hearing the most prominent politician on Earth spouting off about unproven treatments in the middle of a pandemic is bad news.
Now, Aussie researchers want to see if his stunning claims have any merit – and they’re asking frontline healthcare workers across Australia to help out.
Melbourne’s Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research has launched a clinical trial to suss if the drug can be used in the fight against COVID-19, and is seeking 2,250 frontline and allied healthcare staff to join in.
Over four months, half of the cohort will be asked to take a daily dose of hydroxychloroquine as they go about their daily duties. The other half will be given a placebo.
It’s vital research, given Trump’s unfounded insistence that the drug is a-okay, and the fact that hydroxychloroquine can kick up some significant side-effects.
In late March, the Therapeutic Goods Administration warned punters that hydroxychloroquine and the related substance chloroquine can “pose well-known serious risks to patients including cardiac toxicity (potentially leading to sudden heart attacks), irreversible eye damage and severe depletion of blood sugar (potentially leading to coma).”
Heavy stuff – and at least one person has died in the US after chloroquine ingestion.
In a statement, researcher and rheumatologist Professor Ian Wicks said the Institute’s specialists are “highly experienced in using hydroxychloroquine in the clinic” and will monitor participants for the duration of the study.
Speaking to the ABC about the whole scheme, Professor Wicks said there’s some evidence hydroxychloroquine works against the virus “in the test tube,” but much, much more work needs to be completed before it’s ever approved for use as a COVID-19 preventative.
All told, you shouldn’t listen to Trump for medical advice, and it will be worth waiting until this Aussie trial is done and dusted before you go reaching for the hydroxychloroquine as a daily preventative.Image: John Phillips / Getty Images