U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a letter on Wednesday that veterans are being treated for the novel coronavirus with hydroxychloroquine only when patients and their doctors find it medically necessary.

Why it matters: The Food and Drug Administration warned doctors last week about prescribing the antimalarial drug to COVID-19 patients as it appears to be causing some serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.

  • An independent analysis of veterans hospitalized at VA facilities, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found an increased risk of death associated with coronavirus patients who were only treated with the antimalarial drug.
  • The study is the largest examination to date of how the drug interacts with coronavirus patients, AP reports.

Details: The analysis, conducted by university researchers with VA approval, retrospectively looked through medical records of 368 male veterans, with a median age of 58, who were hospitalized with COVID-19 March 11 to April 11, per the study and Wilkie's letter.

What they're saying: "The Veterans who received hydroxychloroquine were at highest risk prior to receiving the medication," Wilkie wrote on Wednesday, adding that the VA is adhering to FDA guidance for the drug's use.

  • Wilkie declined to say in a call with major veterans organizations on Wednesday whether the agency had issued guidance to patients and doctors on the use of hydroxychloroquine, as well as how widely the drug is used, AP reports.
  • The VA told AP that it "permits use of the drug after ensuring veterans and caretakers are aware of potential risks associated with it, as we do with any other drug or treatment.”

Go deeper: States stockpile hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus as FDA issues warning

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Updated 16 hours ago - Health

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Australian officials in Victoria announced another 19 deaths from COVID-19 on Monday morning local time, breaking the state and national record set the previous day of 17. Victoria also reported 322 new cases — the lowest in 13 days.

The big picture: Australia was on track to suppress the virus in May, but cases have been spiking in Victoria in recent weeks, where a state of disaster was declared last week, enabling officials to introduce restrictions including a night-time curfew in state capital Melbourne.

Aug 7, 2020 - Health

Massachusetts pauses reopening after uptick in coronavirus cases

Gov. Charlie Baker at Boston MedFlight Headquarters on Aug. 4. Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Friday that the state's second phase of reopening is "postponed indefinitely" in response to a modest increase in coronavirus cases.

The big picture: The state is reporting more COVID-19 deaths than most others across the U.S. outside of domestic epicenters like California, or previous hotspots including New Jersey and New York, per a New York Times database.

Aug 7, 2020 - Health

Africa records over 1 million coronavirus cases

A health worker in Nigeria checks students' temperatures on August 4. Photo: Pius Utomi Ekepei/AFP via Getty Images

African countries collectively surpassed 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases this week, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Why it matters: Some health experts believe that the true number of COVID-19 cases among African countries is higher than that figure due to a lack of testing, and fear that undetected cases could overload some of the world’s weakest health systems, according to AP.