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FACT CHECK: Chloroquine tested as treatment for COVID-19 – but is not a cure

“Chloroquine has been proven to be a solution to the coronavirus … it is able to counter and overpower the coronavirus,” says a voice in an audio clip that’s been going around the WhatsApp messaging service since 27 February 2020.

In the clip an unidentified Paris-based man, speaking in English, says he is recording to explain a French-language video. The video, which we couldn’t locate, supposedly shows that the malaria drug chloroquine can be used against COVID-19.

“Rush to any pharmacy that you can and get yourself some chloroquine … you take 500mg of chloroquine for eight days and then you’ll be completely cured of any infection of coronavirus,” the man says.

Similar claims about chloroquine have been made by US president Donald Trump and billionaire entrepreneur and Tesla founder Elon Musk. There have been shortages of the drug in pharmacies in the US.

The claim that chloroquine is an “antidote” to COVID-19 is also circulating on Facebook.

But can it cure COVID-19? We investigated.

CHLOROQUINE AND COVID-19

Chloroquine is used to prevent and treat malaria and parasitic diseases like amebiasis.

The structurally similar hydroxychloroquine is often used to treat arthritis and the autoimmune disorder lupus.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. An outbreak of a new strain, given the name 2019-nCoV and known as novel coronavirus, was identified in China in late December 2019. The virus causes the disease COVID-19.

As of 27 March 2020, there were more than 500,0000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and at least 24,000 people had died from the disease.

INITIAL STUDIES SHOW DRUG MAY TREAT COVID-19

China has in a “consensus” report recommended that “treating the patients diagnosed as novel coronavirus pneumonia with chloroquine might improve the success rate of treatment, shorten hospital stay and improve patient outcome”.

But they called for more research into its claimed efficacy while there have been reports of official Chinese warning of its toxicity.

CHLOROQUINE ISN’T CURE, FURTHER STUDIES ARE NEEDED

While early research indicates that chloroquine may have some activity against the virus that causes COVID-19, none of it claims that the drug is a “cure” for the disease.

The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that while chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are currently recommended for treatment against COVID-19 in some countries, they are still currently under investigation in clinical trials for use in the US.

There is no currently available data “to inform clinical use, dosing, or duration of hydroxychloroquine for prophylaxis or treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection [COVID-19],” the CDC says.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement on 19 March to say it is still investigating the effectiveness of chloroquine against COVID-19. The drug has not been approved for treatment. There are currently no FDA approved drugs to treat, cure or prevent COVID-19.

As of 23 March 2020, the World Health Organization, or WHO, said “there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-2019”.

“WHO does not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for COVID-19.” People should not stock up on chloroquine to prevent COVID-19.

This article appeared on AfricaCheck.org, a non-partisan organisation which promotes accuracy in public debate and the media. Follow them on Twitter: @AfricaCheck

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