New Cochrane Review shows chloroquine doesn’t help people with COVID-19

News article 11 Feb 2021
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Hydroxychloroquine bottle held in hand in doctors office with patient

Hydroxychloroquine does not reduce deaths from COVID-19, and probably does not reduce the number of people needing mechanical ventilation, state the authors of a new Cochrane Review. In addition, they note that no new trials of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine for treating COVID-19 should be started.

Authors based in India, South Africa, and the UK (LSTM, the University of Liverpool, Royal Liverpool University Hospital Liverpool) undertook this systematic review of studies that used chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for treating or preventing COVID-19 disease. They searched for studies that examined giving chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine to people with COVID-19; people at risk of being exposed to the virus; and people who had been exposed to the virus.

The public demand for a COVID-19 cure fuelled speculation that the drug might be effective, but this was based on unreliable research that did not meet the inclusion criteria of this review. The then US President Trump declared chloroquine a “game changer” about a year ago, leading to global demand and confusion. The research community rapidly organized large trials which demonstrated no evidence of effect, and these trials are summarized in this review.

The review authors included 14 relevant studies: 12 studies of chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine used to treat COVID-19 in 8569 adults; and two studies of hydroxychloroquine to stop COVID-19 in 3346 adults who had been exposed to the virus but had no symptoms of infection. Included studies were from China (4); Brazil, Egypt, Iran, Spain, Taiwan, the UK, and North America (each 1 study); and a global study in 30 countries (1 study). Some studies were partly funded by pharmaceutical companies that manufacture hydroxychloroquine.

Senior author Dr Tom Fletcher said: “This review certainly should put a line under using this drug to treat COVID-19, but some countries and health providers are still caught up in the earlier hype and prescribing the drug. We hope this review will help these practices end soon”.

Singh B, Ryan H, Kredo T, Chaplin M, Fletcher T. Chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine for prevention and treatment of COVID‐19. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2020, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD013587. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD013587.pub2 

This Cochrane Review was co-ordinated by the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group (CIDG), which has its editorial base at LSTM. The CIDG has been in operation since 1994 and consists of over 600 authors from 52 countries. It is funded by UK aid from the UK government for the benefit of low- and middle-income countries (project number 300342-104). The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.