Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization is temporarily pausing tests of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment in order to review safety concerns, the agency's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday.

Why it matters: The decision comes after a retrospective review published in The Lancet found that coronavirus patients who took hydroxychloroquine or its related drug chloroquine were more likely to die or develop an irregular heart rhythm that can lead to sudden cardiac death, compared to those who did nothing.

  • The medical journal's review consisted of 96,000 hospitalized patients diagnosed with the coronavirus in six continents, the largest analysis of medical records on the drug, between Dec. 20, 2019, and April 14, 2020.
  • Tedros said that an independent executive panel "agreed to review a comprehensive analysis and critical appraisal of all evidence available globally" regarding hydroxychloroquine in order to determine whether it should continue to be used in WHO's Solidarity Trial, a global effort to test experimental coronavirus treatments.

The big picture: President Trump has touted the drug as a potential "game-changer" and revealed last week that he had been taking it as a preventative against the coronavirus after consulting with the White House doctor. This came even after the FDA warned that the unproven drug should only be taken in hospitals because of the risk of heart complications.

What they're saying:

"The Executive Group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity Trial while the safety data is reviewed by the Data Safety Monitoring Board. The other arms of the trial are continuing. This concern relates to the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in COVID-19. I wish to reiterate that these drugs are accepted as generally safe for use in patients with autoimmune diseases or malaria."
— Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

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