The Controversy Surrounding Hydroxychloroquine and Its Link to COVID-19 Deaths

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January 15, 2024

The Controversy Surrounding Hydroxychloroquine and Its Link to COVID-19 Deaths


  • Amid the initial panic of the COVID-19 pandemic, various existing drugs were repurposed for treatment, including hydroxychloroquine, briefly praised by former US President Donald Trump. However, a recent study published in the open-access journal Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy suggests a potential link between hydroxychloroquine and an increased mortality rate of up to 11%. This reframing explores the controversy surrounding the drug and the cautionary lessons learned from its repurposing during the pandemic.

The Rush to Find Treatments

  • During the first wave of the pandemic, there was an urgent need for effective treatments while awaiting vaccines and new drug development. Hydroxychloroquine, initially considered a potential “miracle cure,” gained global attention, with even the World Health Organization exploring its use.

Initial Trials and Recommendations

  • Former WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan revealed that initial trials did not show clinical improvements, leading to recommendations against hydroxychloroquine use. The study sample size was initially small, highlighting the necessity of large datasets for comprehensive findings.

Hazard of Repurposing Drugs

  • Researchers, cautioning against drug repurposing in panic situations, emphasized the hazards associated with low-level evidence. The study suggests a possible link between hydroxychloroquine and 17,000 deaths, emphasizing the need for evidence-based approaches even in times of public fear.

Trump’s Endorsement and Global Impact

  • Former President Trump’s endorsement of hydroxychloroquine led to a surge in global sales, with millions hoarding the drug. Many countries recommended it for frontline healthcare workers as a preventive measure, contributing to the drug’s widespread use.

Hydroxychloroquine’s Mechanism and Risks

  • While generally considered safe, hydroxychloroquine’s preventive use in a large healthy population prompted reevaluation of its risks. The drug’s immune-suppressing properties were intended to mitigate cytokine storms in COVID patients, but subsequent warnings from health authorities raised concerns.

Impact on COVID Patients

  • Small-scale studies reported side effects, including cardiac discomfort and digestive issues, but a lack of larger study groups made it challenging to pinpoint specific causes. Previous global trials were halted, and the WHO discontinued hydroxychloroquine tests.

Recent Study Findings

  • The most recent systematic review, encompassing studies from multiple countries, attempts to link hydroxychloroquine to 17,000 deaths. While systematic reviews offer more data, challenges arise due to differing methodologies in individual studies, and consensus remains elusive.

Current Status of Hydroxychloroquine

  • Despite its long-standing use in treating malaria and autoimmune disorders, hydroxychloroquine’s role in COVID-19 treatment remains controversial. Ongoing discussions surround its efficacy, with the need for cautious evaluation and better evidence-based approaches in future healthcare crises.


  • The controversy surrounding hydroxychloroquine highlights the challenges of repurposing drugs in the face of a global health crisis. Lessons learned emphasize the importance of robust evidence, large datasets, and careful evaluation to avoid potential hazards associated with drug interventions during pandemics.

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The Controversy Surrounding Hydroxychloroquine and Its Link to COVID-19 Deaths | Vaid ICS Institute