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Will the proven Covid-fighting drug Hydroxychloroquine now be allowed to save lives?


CIVIL society is at a standstill; with what John Milton called ‘the known rules of ancient liberty’ smothered, perhaps for ever.    

Countless businesses have sunk beneath the waves and multitudes of workers have been laid off. Children have lost nearly a year of proper school. 

The Covid nightmare continues; thousands still being hospitalised and still dying while lives and livelihoods are destroyed by the continuing lockdown. 

All for a health emergency which experts and pundits have decided can be resolved only by the new experimental vaccines of the big drug companies. 

But is this really the case? Was there never an effective prophylactic or early treatment alternative? Well, the evidence suggests there was, one that has been systematically and determinedly denied by the medical authorities and an anti-Trump ‘cancel culture’.  

It was seven months ago that a highly-respected professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health in the US told the world via the magazine Newsweek that ‘The Key to Defeating Covid-19 Already Exists. We Need to Start Using It.’

The key to which Professor Harvey Risch, author of more than 300 peer-reviewed publications, was referring was the cheap anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ). It was a treatment that countries and doctors worldwide had begun to use to treat Covid patients with a great deal of apparent success, particularly in conjunction with the antibiotic azithromycin and zinc. 

Professor Risch wrote: ‘I am fighting for a treatment that the data fully supports but which, for reasons having nothing to do with a correct understanding of the science, has been pushed to the sidelines. As a result, tens of thousands of patients with Covid-19 are dying unnecessarily.’  

His call fell on deaf ears and the episode that followed is one that should really make us question human nature, and human sanity. 

I had already written a series of pieces for TCW drawing attention to the neglect and demonisation of this drug in the US and the UK. One turned out to be TCW’s most-read blog of the year. 

TCW continued through the summer to report on the growing political controversy surrounding the drug’s trials and the retraction by The Lancet medical journal of its now notorious but damning paper. ‘Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of Covid-19’  

As I had already pointed out on TCW, the study published in The Lancet did not cover the use of hydroxychloroquine with zinc. Yet the media message was simple: hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work. 

My previous articles had pointed to the many countries that have widely used HCQ to treat patients successfully, including Switzerland, Spain, India, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Tunisia and Costa Rica. 

In April 2020, Russian Prime minister Mikhail Mishustin authorised the distribution of 68,000 packs of hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 treatment. 

I also reported on the many doctors who had treated people with HCQ with apparent success; or who said the potential benefits outweighed the risks, especially if used early or as a prophylactic. 

As well as Professor Risch, specialists who expressed optimism included Dr Stephen Smith, an infectious disease specialist based in New Jersey; Dr Ramin Oskoui, CEO of Foxhall Cardiology in Washington DC; Dr Anthony Cardillo, CEO of Mend Urgent Care of Los Angeles; Dr Drew Pinsky, the globally-recognised California internist; Dr Joseph Raminian, an infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone Health. 

Dr Vladimir Zelenko, a medical doctor based in New York; Dr Pier Luigi Bartoletti, of the Italian Federation of General Practitioners; Professor Didier Raoult, of the l’Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire Méditerranée Infection in Marseille; Dr William W O’Neill, medical director of the Center for Structural Heart Disease at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. 

To take yet another example, Dr Peter McCullough, a consultant cardiologist and Vice-Chief of Medicine at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, told Sky News Australia in December: ‘There’s no controversy over whether or not (HCQ) works … the chances that it doesn’t work are calculated to be one in 17billion.’ 

He added: ‘The virus invades inside cells, so we have to use drugs that go inside the cell and work to reduce viral replication. The drugs that work within the cell and actually reduce viral replication are HCQ, ivermectin, doxycycline and azithromycin. 

‘Sadly, in the United States and I know in Australia – this happens all the time – patients get no treatment whatsoever. They literally are told to stay at home until they are sick enough to go to the hospital. I think that honestly it’s atrocious. History will look back on that and think it was the worst way to handle a potentially fatal illness.’ 

In late May last year, the Swiss national government banned outpatient use of HCQ for Covid-19, perhaps because of the pressure it faced to do so in the midst of the negative media reaction to President Trump’s advocacy of the drug.

According to Professor Risch, Covid-19 deaths then increased fourfold and remained elevated. On June 11, he added, the Swiss government revoked the ban on HCQ, and on June 23 the death rate reverted to what it had been beforehand. 

To take another global case. Taiwan has been using HCQ to treat mild cases of Covid, according to Dr Christina Lin. While there will be a range of factors at work, what is not in dispute is that this island nation of nearly 24million, which is much more crowded than the UK, has had one of lowest mortality burdens in the world, with less than ten recorded deaths as of yesterday.  

It was in early June that The Lancet apologised to readers after retracting the aforementioned study that said HCQ did not help to curb Covid-19 and might cause death in patients.

This episode led to significant changes in the declarations that The Lancet seeks from authors, in the data-sharing statements the journal requires for published research papers, and in the peer-review process for papers based on large datasets or real-world data. 

Yet in late July, in the midst of a continuing political furore over the effectiveness of the treatment President Trump had endorsed and used, we were told by a smug Dr Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force, that HCQ was ‘ineffective’. 

This was despite Professor Risch arguing in the world’s leading epidemiology journal, The American Journal of Epidemiology, that early outpatient treatment of symptomatic, high-risk Covid-19 patients with HCQ should be ramped up immediately; that five studies demonstrated clear-cut and significant benefits to patients given the treatment, plus other very large studies that showed the safety of the medication. 

In August 2020, a group of US doctors, including the Cameroonian-American physician Dr Stella Immanuel, took to the steps of the Capitol to speak up for HCQ, only to be branded as heretical and then censored on digital media for spreading ‘misinformation’ – the first of several times. 

One of the doctors, a top epidemiologist, said that perhaps 75,000 to 100,000 lives could be saved if the HCQ stockpile was released and it was given as a prophylactic to front line healthcare workers.

In October 2020, a study by researchers published in The Journal of MicrobiologyImmunology and Infection found that treatment which included HCQ and azithromycin led to a  ‘favourable outcome’ for patients with Covid-19 pneumonia. 

In November 2020, a study reported that countries adopting early widespread use of HCQ treatment experienced a nearly 70 per cent lower death rate, after adjustments, than those which had limited early HCQ use. 

And in December, an article in the journal Ageing Medicine noted that HCQ was ‘increasingly used off‐label for patients with Covid‐19’ and that ‘clinical trials have revealed that HCQ is able to act as a potential drug in fighting against’ Covid-19. 

Finally, in January this year, an article co-authored by the same Harvey Risch and again published in The American Journal of Medicine recommended treating Covid with HCQ, presenting data showing that the drug interfered with the normal reproduction of the virus. 

It confirms the original finding of last year that ‘when started earlier in the hospital course, for progressively longer durations and in outpatients, anti-malarials may reduce the progression of disease, prevent hospitalisation, and are associated with reduced mortality’ and when used with azithromycin ‘can serve as a safety net for patients with Covid-19 against clinical failure of the bacterial component of community-acquired pneumonia’. 

So the finding was that HCQ can reduce mortality rates in Covid-19 patients. There have been a huge number of studies of varying quality on the effectiveness of the drug. Here is a link you can use to keep track of them (the authors were recently banned from a social media platform apparently without warning).  

The website summarises the findings of 239 studies, 172 of them peer-reviewed and 197 of them comparing treatment and control groups. At the top, it states: ‘HCQ is not effective when used very late with high dosages over a long period (RECOVERY/SOLIDARITY), effectiveness improves with earlier usage and improved dosing. Early treatment consistently shows positive effects. ’ 

Now Joseph S Alpert, editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Medicine, has acknowledged that the drug ‘may be useful as a preventative measure’.

Perhaps it’s not so surprising that Facebook has finally had to come round to acknowledging that it had been wrong to censor a post by someone in France about HCQ.

The question now is whether the rest of the Big Tech digital media companies will follow Facebook and retrack, and apologise for, their censorship of other posts.  

These include those shared by President Trump, which pointed to HCQ as a possible treatment, including one which was taken down with huge publicity last summer as the presidential election heated up. 

I won’t hold my breath. What is shocking is that the public have been denied honest reporting about the efficacy or otherwise of this treatment for what appear to be political (or even financial) motives. 

As Professor Risch wrote movingly in his original Newsweek piece: ‘In the future, I believe this misbegotten episode regarding hydroxychloroquine will be studied by sociologists of medicine as a classic example of how extra-scientific factors overrode clear-cut medical evidence. 

‘But for now, reality demands a clear, scientific eye on the evidence and where it points. For the sake of high-risk patients, for the sake of our parents and grandparents, for the sake of the unemployed, for our economy and for our polity, especially those disproportionately affected, we must start treating immediately.’ 

The purpose of this piece is to highlight specific aspects of a topic of major concern for readers in the hope that it might be more effectively addressed, in the interest of public information, by the UK authorities and by the media. It does not seek to offer expert opinion about medical treatment, nor is the author qualified to do so. Medical advice, and advice about treatment, should be sought only from a qualified professional.

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Joseph Berry
Joseph Berry
Joseph Berry is a former journalist.

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