The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is again urging Australians not to seek out or use hydroxychloroquine to “cure” or “prevent” the COVID-19 virus.
The warning follows Sky News host Rowan Dean arguing that doctors and patients should be free to decide whether to take hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
Two weeks ago, Coalition MP Craig Kelly claimed Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews could be criminally liable for blocking the use of the drug to treat the virus.
Hydroxychloroquine is a medication used to prevent and treat malaria and is also used in the treatment of conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. A similar drug, chloroquine, is used to treat various types of malaria.
The National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce recently updated the strength of its recommendation against the use of the drug, stating definitively “it should not be used as a treatment for anyone with COVID-19”. The taskforce also recommends against the use of hydroxychloroquine for post-exposure prophylaxis.
These drugs have risen to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic following reports that billionaire Clive Palmer bought almost 33 million doses of hydroxychloroquine while also taking out full-page advertisements stating the drug could “wipe out the virus”.
US President Donald Trump confirmed earlier this year he was taking hydroxychloroquine to “ward off” COVID-19, despite his public health officials warning it may be unsafe.
Last week, RACGP Victorian chair Dr Cameron Loy reminded Australian patients the drug should not be used in preventing or treating the COVID-19 virus.
“The pandemic is causing a lot of anxiety and many people are looking for a ‘magic bullet’ that will keep us safe. There are several trials featuring this drug occurring across the globe, including an Australian clinical trial featuring 2,000 frontline healthcare workers.
“However, the evidence base is simply not there to say that hydroxychloroquine can be used to prevent the COVID-19 virus or treat it.
“The results of trials so far have proven inconclusive or found the drug to be ineffective as a treatment. It can also have severe and even deadly side effects if used inappropriately.”
Dr Loy warned sourcing the drug to treat or prevent COVID-19 could have disastrous consequences.
“Rowan Dean asked: ‘What do we have to lose if we embrace such treatments?’ That is an excellent question with a simple answer.
“In addition to the potential harms that can result from using the drug, off-label use of hydroxychloroquine can have significant consequences for patients who are normally prescribed the drug for various medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
“If people rush out and acquire hydroxychloroquine, patients may not be able to access it due to inappropriate use reducing stock levels. It is vital that we have enough stock available for those who actually need this drug right now, so please think about them.”