Brazil’s Health Ministry on Wednesday issued new guidelines clearing the way for the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat patients with COVID-19, days after a second health minister in a row quit under pressure from President Jair Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro had said on Tuesday the Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active duty army general, would sign the new protocol.
There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines specifically for the new coronavirus. But decades old hydroxychloroquine has been widely used in an attempt to alter the course of the COVID-19 respiratory illness based on anecdotal reports that it may provide some benefit.
The old malaria drug touted by US President Donald Trump as a “game changer” in the fight against the coronavirus and which he says he himself has been taking, provided no benefit and potentially higher risk of death for patients at U.S. veterans hospitals, according to an analysis that has been submitted for expert review.
An analysis of Veterans Health Administration (VA) data found that 28% of 97 patients given hydroxychloroquine along with standard care died, compared with a death rate of 11% for the 158 patients that did not receive the drug. The death rate was 22% for the 113 patients given hydroxychloroquine plus the antibiotic azithromycin.
The research, which has not yet been accepted for publication in a medical journal, is not the result of a clinical trial. It analyzed medical records from 368 men hospitalized with confirmed coronavirus infection at VA centers who died or were discharged by April 11, according to the paper posted online for researchers.
Hydroxychloroquine is classified as an anti-malarial drug. It is similar to chloroquine and is useful in treating several forms of malaria as well as lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. Its mechanism of action is unknown. Malarial parasites invade human red blood cells. Hydroxychloroquine may prevent malarial parasites from breaking down (metabolizing) hemoglobin in human red blood cells.
Hydroxychloroquine is effective against the malarial parasites Plasmodium vivax, P. malariae, P. ovale, and susceptible strains of P. falciparum. Hydroxychloroquine prevents inflammation caused by lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis.