The French government on Wednesday said that doctors can no longer treat COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine, a controversial and potentially harmful drug nonetheless being promoted by US President, Donald Trump.
The move came after two French advisory bodies and the World Health Organization warned this week that the drug, a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, had been shown to be potentially dangerous in several studies.
The urgency of the coronavirus outbreak has prompted some doctors to prescribe the drug despite a lack of research to demonstrate its effectiveness against the new coronavirus.
A French infectious disease specialist, in particular, insists he has successfully treated dozens of patients with hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin.
The doctor, Didier Raoult, has caught the ear of Trump, who stunned his own administration last week by revealing he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure against COVID-19.
Raoult has already rejected a comprehensive study published last week in The Lancet medical journal, which found that administering hydroxychloroquine or its related compound chloroquine actually increased the risk of dying for many patients.
“How can a messy study done with ‘big data’ change what we see?” Raoult asked in a video posted this week.
“Here we have had 4,000 people go through our hospital, you don’t think I’m going to change because there are people who do ‘big data,’ which is a kind of completely delusional fantasy,” he said.
Under the new French rules, the drug can be used only in clinical trials — making it unclear if Raoult would be able to continue using it at his hospital in Marseille.