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Hydroxychloroquine: US federal agency revokes authorisation to use drug as COVID-19 treatment

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A chemist displays hydroxychloroquine tablets
A chemist displays hydroxychloroquine tablets   -   Copyright  AP Photos
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The drug that Donald Trump claims to have taken to guard against COVID-19 has had its authorisation withdrawn in the US.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agency retracted emergency permission to use hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the novel coronavirus, saying it is unlikely to be effective.

The FDA decision came in a letter directed to the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that can have an "antiviral or anti-inflammatory effect" in the treatment of rare diseases.

It's been used to treat malaria and fight autoimmune diseases like lupus.

In 2003, the drug was used experimentally to treat SARS, another coronavirus, hence clinicians began trialling it again when COVID-19 appeared.

The debate over hydroxychloroquine

In late March, the Quinism Foundation warned against the dangers of using even low doses of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, which could cause in "susceptible individuals [...] irreversible brain and brainstem dysfunction".

Other side effects could involve people with cardiovascular diseases, pacemakers, or diabetes, as Dr Petr Horák, president of the European Association of Hospital Pharmacists (EAHP), told Euronews.

A study published on May 22 in The Lancet journal argued that there were no benefits in using the drug for COVID-19 treatment, warning of a greater risk of heart problems.

But on June 4, the very same authors retracted their paper, as they were "unable to complete an independent audit of the data underpinning their analysis".

At the same time, the World Health Organization has been implementing its own hydroxychloroquine trials.

In late May the organisation said it would temporarily halt them amid safety concerns, but on June 3 it endorsed their resumption.

Hydroxychloroquine has been a controversial topic for governments around the world.

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro sacked his health minister, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, after he resisted his attempts to promote chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as treatments for COVID-19.

US President Donald Trump in May defended his decision to take hydroxychloroquine and dismissed a study showing adverse side effects as an "enemy statement".

He also defied a US government recommendation to avoid using hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment outside a hospital setting