Hydroxychloroquine, which is widely used against malaria and arthritis, was given to hundreds of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Belgium. Thousands of others didn't receive the drug.
Researchers examined records from 352 adults hospitalized in AZ Groeninge Hospital in Kortrijk, Belgium. All patients tested positive for COVID-19 or had results from CT scans that suggested COVID-19 was present. Patients received hydroxychloroquine alone or with azithromycin, an antibiotic. They were scanned before and after treatment.
Researchers compared the results of the record analysis with a control group of 3,533 people hospitalized across Belgium with COVID-19 from March 14, 2020, to May 24, 2020. The people didn't receive hydroxychloroquine but did receive standard of care.
Twenty-eight days following the diagnosis of COVID-19, 59 people treated with hydroxychloroquine had died. The mortality percentage, or 16.7 percent, was lower than the 25.9 percentage in the control group.
Researchers found patients who received hydroxychloroquine were more likely to survive even after adjusting for age and other factors.
"Our study suggests that, despite the controversy surrounding its use, treatment with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin remains a viable option," Dr. Gert Meeus, a nephrologist with AZ Groeninge Hospital, and other researchers wrote.
The study was published by the journal New Microbes and New Infections. Limitations include the retrospective nature of the study and differences between the treatment and control groups, including the former being younger on average. Authors declared no conflicts of interest or funding.
The research adds to a mixed dataset on hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19.
Some other studies have found that hydroxychloroquine recipients were less likely to die, including a study that analyzed records from a health system in Michigan. Many of the positive findings concerned hydroxychloroquine in combination with azithromycin.
Others have found little or no evidence that hydroxychloroquine affects COVID-19, including a U.S.-government funded study across 34 hospitals.
Multiple studies on hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19 have been retracted.
Hydroxychloroquine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but the agency has warned since mid-2020 against using it for COVID-19. Belgian regulators rescinded authorization for hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 in June 2020.
Hydroxychloroquine proponents say that the amount of the drug, and when it's given, is key to properly studying how it affects COVID-19.
Dr. Meeus and the other Belgian researchers acknowledged clinical trials that did not find a benefit for hydroxychloroquine, as well as some observational studies. Other observational papers have suggested hydroxychloroquine is effective.
"A potential explanation for the discrepancy between the results in the observational trials and the large randomized trials may be the use of a different dose of hydroxychloroquine," they said.
The researchers started with 400 milligrams, two times a day, on day one. That was followed by 200 milligrams a day for five days, in line with national guidelines.
In two large clinical trials that found no benefit, patients received four times as much hydroxychloroquine.
"Our treatment was lower and also used the antibiotic azithromycin. This double treatment is a possible explanation for why we found positive effects, but other studies did not," Dr. Meeus told Doorbraak. Peter Horby, a spokesman for one of the trials, told The Epoch Times previously that the dosage amounts were "carefully selected" and "designed to achieve the concentrations needed to inhibit the virus as quickly and safely as possible."
Dr. Meeus told Doorbraak that further research needs to be done on the drug, or HCQ, but that it very well could be beneficial.
"HCQ is not a panacea, and of course, further research needs to be done. After all, you can't just conclude from an observational study like ours whether something works or not," he said. "But look, we have followed the protocol as it was originally prescribed in Belgium. A study ... also showed in early 2020 that HCQ did lead to lower mortality. If the results of our study confirm this again, we think it is very plausible that the drug has helped quite a few patients."
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