Malaysia still using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients; health ministry monitoring side effects

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s health ministry will continue to use hydroxychloroquine in trials to treat COVID-19 patients, said its director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah on Tuesday (May 26), adding that authorities will closely monitor any side effects.

The anti-malaria drug is known to cause several side effects such as irregular heartbeat and blurred vision. The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that it is suspending testing the drug in COVID-19 patients due to safety concerns.

“As you may know, it has side effects, which vary from person to person, so there needs to be close monitoring by doctors,” Dr Noor Hisham told reporters at a media conference. 

“For example, if a patient has rapid heartbeat, then we will immediately stop usage of the drug in order to prevent heart failure and so on.”

READ: COVID-19: WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine due to safety concerns

Dr Noor Hisham said hydroxychloroquine is being used to prevent the coronavirus infection from becoming worse at an early stage. 

He added that healthcare experts are gathering data, to determine if the use of the drug has been effective.

“The experts are still studying how to prevent existing side effects and avoid high dosage. Let us wait for the literature review which will be issued by the World Health Organization in mid-June,” he said.

READ: Malaysia reports 187 new COVID-19 cases, majority are illegal migrants held at detention centre

Hydroxychloroquine has been touted by Donald Trump and others as a possible treatment for the disease. The US president has said he was taking the drug to help prevent infection.

Brazil’s health ministry also said it would not change its recommendation to use the drug on COVID-19 patients, despite the WHO’s decision to suspend trials.

The WHO had previously recommended against using hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent coronavirus infections, except as part of clinical trials.

Dr Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergencies programme, said the decision to suspend trials of hydroxychloroquine had been taken out of “an abundance of caution”.

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