WHO experts advise against hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19

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The anti-inflammatory drug hydroxychloroquine should not be used to prevent infection in people who do not have the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), according to a new guideline by a World Health Organization (WHO) Guideline Development Group (GDG) panel of international experts published in The BMJ.

The recommendation is based on high certainty evidence from six randomized controlled trials involving over 6,000 participants with and without known exposure to a person with COVID-19 infection. High certainty evidence showed that hydroxychloroquine had no meaningful effect on death and admission to hospital, while moderate certainty evidence showed that hydroxychloroquine had no meaningful effect on laboratory confirmed COVID-19 infection and it probably increases the risk of adverse effects.

As a result, the panel said it considers that this drug is no longer a research priority and that resources should be used to evaluate other more promising drugs to prevent COVID-19, according to the published guidance.  

The guideline applies to all individuals who do not have COVID-19, regardless of their exposure to a person with COVID-19 infection. The panel said it judged that almost all people would not consider this drug worthwhile, and decided that factors such as resources, feasibility, acceptability, and equity for countries and healthcare systems were unlikely to alter the recommendation.

The recommendation is the first version of a living guideline for drugs to prevent COVID-19, developed by the WHO. Living guidelines are useful in fast-moving research areas like COVID-19 because they allow researchers to update previously vetted and peer reviewed evidence summaries.

New recommendations for other preventive drugs for COVID-19 will be added to this guideline as more evidence becomes available, the experts say.

Editor's note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.