The World Health Organisation has temporarily banned use of hydroxychloroquine in experimental Covid-19 treatments due to safety concerns, it said Monday, May 25. The UN health agency in March launched a multinational trial on a variety of repurposed drugs to kick-start the search for a treatment for Covid-19. However, WHO announced that the suspension was informed by safety concerns for Covid-19 patients. Hydroxychloroquine, also referred to as HCQ, is an approved treatment for malaria and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and a type of blood disorder that affects the skin known as Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT). However, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that in light of a research paper published last week in the Lancet that showed people taking hydroxychloroquine were at a higher risk of death and heart problems, there would be “a temporary pause” on the hydroxychloroquine arm of its global clinical trial. “The executive group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity trial while the safety data is reviewed by the data safety monitoring board,” Tedros said during an online briefing on May 25. He further pointed out that the concern related only to the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for Covid-19, adding that the drugs are accepted treatments for people with malaria and auto-immune diseases. “The other arms of the trial are continuing,” added Dr Tedros. The global trial dubbed Solidarity trial is being carried out in several countries across the world with Rwandan medical researchers joining their international counterparts in the search for a cure for Covid-19. There are plans for clinical trials for three drugs. Other treatments in the WHO’s Solidarity trial, including the experimental drug remdesivir and a combination therapy of two HIV drugs – lopinavir and ritonavir – are still being pursued. Animal studies The drugs are being studied because they have all shown some evidence of effectiveness against the SARS-CoV 2 virus, which causes Covid-19, either in cells (in vitro) and or animal studies. Dr Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO emergencies programme, said the decision to suspend trials of hydroxychloroquine had been taken out of “an abundance of caution”.