Algeria sticks with hydroxychloroquine treatment for COVID-19

Algeria’s coronavirus outbreak is one of the worst in Africa, with a total of 8,697 cases and 617 deaths officially recorded.
Wednesday 27/05/2020
Medical personnel at the entrance of an Algiers hospital.(REUTERS)
Medical personnel at the entrance of an Algiers hospital.(REUTERS)

ALGIERS - Algeria will continue to use the drug hydroxychloroquine, known as the anti-malaria drug, to treat the coronavirus disease, a member of its scientific committee said, even after the World Health Organisation suspended clinical trials of the drug.

"We've treated thousands of cases with this medicine, very successfully so far," said Mohamed Bekkat, a member of the scientific committee on the North African country's COVID-19 outbreak. "We haven't noted any undesirable reactions," he told AFP agency.

Public figures including US President Donald Trump have backed the drug as treatment for the virus, prompting governments to buy the product in bulk, despite several studies showing it to be ineffective or even counterproductive in treating COVID-19.

Bekkat's comments came days after medical journal The Lancet published a study examining the drug’s impact on nearly 100,000 coroanvirus patients that showed no benefit in using it to treat the virus.

The study found that administering the medicine, which is normally used to treat arthritis, or, separately the related anti-malarial chloroquine, actually increased COVID-19 patients' risk of dying. Both drugs can produce potentially serious side effects, particularly heart arrhythmia.

But Bekkat, who is also head of the Order of Algerian Doctors, said the country had not registered any deaths caused by hydroxychloroquine.

Algeria decided in late March to treat COVID-19 patients with a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, an antibiotic.

"For confirmed cases, we use hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin. Then there is a whole protocol for serious cases," a health ministry official said on Monday.

Thousands of people infected or suspected of being infected with the virus have received such treatments, said doctor Djamel Fourar, the scientific committee's spokesman.

The World Health Organisation said on Monday it had temporarily suspended clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for coronavirus, following the Lancet study.

That study looked at records from hundreds of hospitals, comparing a control group with patients treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, either alone or in combination with antibiotics.

At the end of the study, out of those treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine alone, 18% and 16.4% respectively had died, compared with 9% in the control group.

Those given each drug in combination with antibiotics were even more likely to die – at up to a 23.8% risk with hydroxychloroquine.

Bekkat argued that the Lancet study had led to "confusion" as it "seems to concern serious cases in which hydroxychloroquine is of no help.”

"There is evidence that the use of chloroquine by Arab and African countries has proven to be effective when used early,” he explained.

Algeria's coronavirus outbreak is one of the worst in Africa, with a total of 8,697 cases and 617 deaths officially recorded.

On Saturday, the Algerian government adopted additional precautionary measures to tackle the virus following a spike in mortalities.

The Algerian government decided to make wearing a mask compulsory in public spaces from the first day of Eid al-Fitr.

"Wearing of face masks is obligatory, and violating this mandatory obligation would expose offenders to legal sanctions,” the government said.

It added that masks would be widely available and distributed through civil society groups, committees and association.

The government "counts a lot on the vigilance, awareness, and solidarity of citizens to fight the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic,” Algeria’s official news agency said.

The country has recruited all textile factories, vocational training centres and even prisons to produce masks to add to those it has imported or received through China.

The government’s measures come after it decided in March to close all schools, universities and mosques and stop all sports, cultural and political activity, including the pro-democracy Hirak marches that had taken place since last year.