Due to the alarming findings published in the Lancet, Ghebreyesus said Monday, the use of hydoxychloroquine in the trial, which now has more than 3,500 patients in 17 countries, will temporarily halt.
The decision followed shortly after France's public health watchdog warned against using the drug and just two days after the World Health Organization announced it had suspended a global trial of the drug over safety concerns.
With US President Donald Trump touting the anti-malaria drug as a definite cure for COVID-19, his administration has stockpiled millions of doses of HCQ despite the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issuing a safety communication regarding the known side effects of the drug.
According to Nikkei, India had sent consignments of the drug to 25 African states last week. It has also been used as a treatment for autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Although by now the fact that there is still a debate over using hydroxychloroquine may not make much sense to people who have been closely following the controversy, to someone who hasn't been, the back-and-forth is confusing at best, and alarming at worst. "The 70 years of experience of applying hydroxychloroquine, including in rheumatology, shows that the drug has proven to have a good safety profile", the ministry said.
Medicines agencies in France and Italy said the drug should not be used for COVID-19 outside clinical trials. It is reasonably safe to treat malaria.
In the very early stages of the viral outbreak, doctors in China experimented with a number of different pre-existing drugs in the hopes that something could be repurposed to prevent infection, or at least improve patient outcomes.
The WHO said it was also carrying out its own studies on the effectiveness of the drug in treating Covid-19, as well as its safety implications.
Newly enrolled patients will get other treatments being evaluated, including Gilead Science's remdesivir and AbbVie's Kaletra/Aluvia.
"Although observational studies can not fully account for unmeasured confounding factors, our findings suggest not only an absence of therapeutic benefit but also potential harm with the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine drug regimens" in hospitalized patients.