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When Chloroquine became an anathema – Part 4

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Several so much unknown about the effects of the virus on the human body. In a chloroquine-politicised observational studies have shown positive outcomes with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. A lot of biases have become actors in some of these studies. Unfortunately, as the editors of two leading medical journals revealed; The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine, big pharmaceutical companies pressured them to push forward studies that denounced chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine and push back studies that proved their efficacy. This revelation came after several scientists pointed out the biases and errors in one of such articles. The article was a faulted observational study published in the Lancet. The WHO withdrew its clinical trial on hydroxychloroquine based on this highly, faulted research.

The article was later retracted but not before several countries had stopped administering chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to their COVID-19 patients. One can only imagine the loss of lives that would have followed and continue to follow from the discontinuation of these drugs. The interpretation of biased research studies can be made to go either way. While some clinical trials on chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are ongoing around the world, some have had to be discontinued because of inadequate number of volunteers as some people including doctors have become reluctant to use or recommend the use of the drugs. The hype around these drugs has also led to stockpiling such that people using them for other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or an auto immune disease like lupus erythematous are finding it difficult to access them.

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Several studies have also been published on the efficacy and safety of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine but do not get as much publicity. These drugs are being used and are saving lives but because of the skepticism, controversy, negative publicity and brouhaha that has now been attached to it and in some countries the fear of being summoned by the medical board, many doctors are afraid of using it and many journals are not keen on publishing articles on positive outcomes with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. As I pointed out in my article in The Guardian of 26th May, 2020. The title of the article was “Taking Ownership in the Management of COVID-19”, when chloroquine is used in the early onset of the disease, before the cytokine storm, it works. The cytokine storm is a result of over reaction of the host’s immune system. On the 21st of May in an interview on “Frequently Asked Questions About COVID-19” with Arise TV, I explained similar issues about chloroquine.

If a ship is sinking and a rescue boat comes along. You cannot refuse to board the boat and stop others from boarding saying that that rescue boat does not meet your gold standard. Even if the rescue boat does not meet your gold standard, at least use it to get off the sinking boat. Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are the rescue boats and we should not refuse the offer of hope in them.

In the future, post COVID-19 pandemic, journalists, medical historians, sociologists and psychologists would analyse what happened to the anathema around chloroquine and perhaps we would have learnt our lessons on politicization of our health. And like the Titans and Olympians in the Greek mythology, Zeus left hope in Pandora’s box. Hope has been given to us in chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, we should not shut it out. We should not throw away the baby with the bath water.
Obilade, a medical doctor and an Associate Professor of Public Health, wrote from Abuja.

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