Questionable ethics: Anti-malaria drug trials on Covid-19 patients continue

Studies are reportedly underway across multiple Dutch hospitals to test the efficacy of the anti-malaria drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, despite mounting international evidence that their use to treat Covid-19 has little effect. According to a report by the newspaper AD, the tests have involved a large proportion of Dutch Covid-19 hospital patients.

The anti-malaria drugs, which have garnered controversy in recent months for unfounded promises of being a miracle cure, are being tested in ten major Dutch hospitals, including UMC Utrecht, Maastricht UMC+ and Elisabeth-TweeSteden Hospital​, according to AD. This comes as the drug has been found to be of little use in tackling the coronavirus, according to Mark de Boer of the Foundation Working Group on Antibiotics Policy.

“We now know that it does nothing and it may also have side effects. You may wonder whether it is still ethical to continue administering this in a study context,” explained De Boer.

However, De Boer questioned the claim that the drugs could have harmful effects on patients, pointing out that those being treated with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine are being monitored closely and that trends so far indicate that the side effects are not severe.

Numerous international findings, including a recent study by medical journal The Lancet, continue to cast fresh controversy on the use of the drugs as a potential treatment for Covid-19. However, while it appears as though the drugs are of little use, studies have been hard-pressed to find that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine cause severe side effects, with De Boer pointing out that the possible side effects associated with the drugs—including heart, liver and kidney issues—have not resulted in any known deaths so far.

"We have given explicit instruction to monitor all patients by means of echocardiogram. If a patient was in danger of deteriorating, immediate action could be taken," De Boer said

"You can also ask yourself whether it is still ethical to still administer this in a study context," he added.