07/04/2020 8:29 PM IST

How Did Donald Trump Get Fixated On Hydroxychloroquine? Here's What You Should Know

It all started with one controversial French study.

US President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 6, 2020.

On Tuesday, India announced it would partially lift a ban on exports of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine following, it turned out, a threat of retaliation made by US President Donald Trump over a phone call.

“In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

After the announcement, many Indians—both doctors and patients—tweeted that they are finding it difficult to access the medicine in pharmacies.

Trump has touted hydroxychloroquine as a “game-changer” in the fight against Covid-19 even as its efficacy remains unproven. Several virologists and infectious disease experts, according to BBC, have also cautioned that the excitement over hydroxychloroquine is premature. 

The US President has been going ahead with pushing the drug even though Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has cautioned that more data is needed on this. 

The New York Times on Tuesday reported that Trump has personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French drugmaker that makes Plaquenil, the brand-name version of hydroxychloroquine. 

ALSO READ: Here’s Why Donald Trump Is Threatening India Over Hydroxychloroquine Exports

How did Trump come across this drug?

A small trial by Chinese researchers made public last week found that hydroxychloroquine appeared to ease the symptoms in moderately ill patients, but the authors of the study, The New York Times reported, said that more research was needed to clarify how it might work in treating coronavirus disease. 

The Guardian said that Trump was influenced by a “deeply flawed” study in France which experts have reportedly dismissed. Tracing how the US President became aware of the drug, Julia Carrie Wong noted that even before its publication in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents (IJAA), the study was cited by a lawyer appearing on Fox News’s ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight’. 

A lawyer, it said, who falsely claimed an affiliation with Stanford University declared the results a “100% cure rate against coronavirus”. 

The Guardian pointed out that the study did not follow the rules for a “double-blinded, randomized controlled trial”, and even excluded six patients in the treatment group (including three critically ill people and one who died) from the final results.   

“This is how an experiment in which 15% of the treatment group and 0% of the control had poor clinical outcomes could end up being reported as showing a “100% cure rate”,” wrote Wong.

Read The Guardian’s report on how drug became Trump’s coronavirus ‘miracle cure’.

Didier Raoult, the corresponding author for the French study, predicted the coronavirus “endgame” in a YouTube video and described how Chinese doctors had success treating patients with chloroquine. Politico said the scientific community has warned about problems with the way Raoult designed his trials and the results were not peer-reviewed prior to publication.

Further explaining, Politico said: 

Raoult’s team examined a small number of patients, and chose which received treatment with the malaria drug and which did not. That breaks with standard practice in clinical trials of randomly assigning patients to treatment or control groups to avoid bias. The scientists also failed to collect full data from some patients, failing to follow the study protocol they had designed. 

Raoult has defended his approach. “A doctor can and must think like a doctor, and not like someone obsessed with methodology,” he wrote in an opinion piece in Le Monde, according to The Financial Times.

Waiting weeks or months for the results of double blind, placebo-controlled studies during a pandemic when an old drug might work fine is akin to ceding to the “moral dictatorship” of profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies, he wrote.