Algeria approves controversial malaria drug, touted by Trump, to treat coronavirus

Algeria approves controversial malaria drug, touted by Trump, to treat coronavirus
The anti-Malaria medication chloroquine has been approved by Algeria to be administered by medical personnel to treat some cases of coronavirus, but one expert warns against taking such measures seriously.
3 min read
25 March, 2020
A French pharmaceutical company resumes production of chloroquine phosphate [Getty]
Algeria's health minister has made the controversial decision to allow hospitals to purschase chloroquine - a drug used to treat malaria - to treat coronavirus patients, as the country reaches 302 confirmed cases and the death toll reaches 21.

The statement underlines that the drug should be used to treat "certain cases" of COVID-19 in accordance with "specific medical protocol".

The details and the types of patients doctors can treat with the drug remain unclear.

Algeria's decision to allow health professionals to administer the drug comes as US President Donald Trump called chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine - both variations of the same Malaria medication - potential "gamechangers", during a press conference last week.

This prompted a rush to hoard the medicine, which has caused at least one death in the US and overdoses around the world.

Indonesia joined Algeria in stockpiling the drugs, while India announced that it will ban its export.

The Kuwait health ministry withdrew all medicines containing hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine from private pharmacies and limited them to hospitals and health centres only to prevent stockpiling, state news agency KUNA reported.

However the World Health Organisation said there isn't enough evidence to prove that the drug can successfully treat COVID-19, and experts agree.

Read More: Trapped between Israel's occupation and coronavirus: How are Palestinians coping with the pandemic?

"There are a number of studies from China and France which seem to show [chloroquine] may have some effect on helping treat COVID but there are also other drugs that are being tried and tested," Cambridge professor Adam Coutts, who specialises in public health and the Middle East, told The New Arab.

"I think we should be very careful about jumping to the first thing that seems to have an effect. Public health measures and strengthening the capacity of health services and testing clearly prevent the spread of COVID and countries should strictly follow these. Look at Germany for an example," he said.

Chloroquine is one of a number of drugs - including flu medicine and HIV retrovirals - that are being looked at to potentially alleviate symptoms of coronavirus. However clinical tests have not yet confirmed or denied its success in treating the symptoms.

The drug was first investigated during the 2002-2003 Sars outbreak, a coronavirus that has similarities to COVID-19.

Early studies indicate that chloroquine could inhibit the SARS virus in primate cells after infection.

The revival of these studies has led to the argument that chloroquine could be used to kill the coronavirus and save lives, and the WHO has identified the two drugs as one of four potential drug therapies in a global trial called Solidarity.

However, the drug remains in its testing stages and there is currently little evidence to prove that it treats coronavirus symptoms.

Dr Coutts also warned against stockpiling drugs, calling it a symptom of "mass global panic".

"The issue with countries stockpiling drugs like this is clearly a symptom of the mass global panic and hysteria which has developed as a result of misinformation put through social media channels. That's not an evidence-based approach and will benefit no one."

"Countries should follow who guidelines on this and adopt a coordinated approach."

A report published by the Journal of Zhejiang University in China found that hydroxychloroquine was no more effective than conventional care.

The study involved 30 patients: Of the 15 patients given the malaria drug, 13 tested negative for the coronavirus after one week of treatment. Of the 15 patients who didn't get hydroxychloroquine, 14 tested negative for the virus.

Though the study was not statistically significant, it does add to the growing number of experts warning against stockpiling such medicine and cautioning against self-administering the drugs as a form of coronavirus treatment.

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