PUTRAJAYA, June 9 — Malaysia is still using hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19, despite a major study that found the antimalarial drug did not work for patients hospitalised with the new disease.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the off-label usage of hydroxychloroquine has managed to delay Covid-19 progression among patients in Malaysia, which he noted could have led to low fatality rates in the country.
“The reason we use it is for [Covid-19] patients that have been diagnosed positive, asymptomatic or mild symptoms, and we already have a study on the efficacy and the treatment and we realise that by using the hydroxychloroquine, we can delay or even stop the progression into Category Four and Five. So that is one positive observation that we have done,” he told a press conference, referring to the worst stages of the Covid-19 disease.
Leaders of the biggest “gold-standard” randomised controlled trial for hydroxychloroquine, dubbed the Recovery trial, said last Friday that hydroxychloroquine did not reduce the risk of death in Covid-19 patients or cut hospital stays.
Investigators of the Recovery trial said 25.7 per cent of patients on hydroxychloroquine died over 28 days, compared with 23.5 per cent of the others, a difference that was not statistically significant.
“Today’s preliminary results from the Recovery Trial are quite clear – hydroxychloroquine does not reduce the risk of death among hospitalised patients with this new disease.
“This result should change medical practice worldwide and demonstrates the importance of large, randomised trials to inform decisions about both the efficacy and the safety of treatments,” said Martin Landray, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, and Deputy Chief Investigator.
In Malaysia, the MOH is also conducting trials and hopes to publish a paper to study the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine on Covid-19.
“Hydroxychloroquine is not a treatment for Covid-19, but it delays the progress. It is actually an anti-inflammation medicine,” Dr Noor Hisham said.
“So, that will help us in terms of delaying the progress to Category 4 and 5. Maybe because of that, we are seeing a low mortality in our set-up, possibly, but we are looking into it and we will certainly publish a paper that is actually been done in our local hospitals.
“And the trial will go on and we hope that we can substantiate some substantial data coming up for this trial and for us to whether there is any value in using this.”
The World Health Organization also is recommencing a clinical trial to explore the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating Covid-19, after a temporary break to review safety concerns about the drug.
“Today, we are using off label. But perhaps if there is actually data to support it then it will be indicated to use hydroxychloroquine for Covid patients,” Dr Noor Hisham said.
“Likewise, we are using other medicine as well for example, lopinavir, ritonavir etc. These are off-label usage of HIV drugs for example.
“So, I think we are looking forward for the trials and we hope that there’ll be a great impact in terms of the data being analysed and come up with the conclusion.”