Fact check: Hydroxychloroquine does not work better abroad
The claim: Hydroxychloroquine works in other countries, but not in the U.S.
As some global leaders tout the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19, scientists from those countries caution that there’s not much evidence it works, putting the drug at the center of political debate.
A meme shared by The Rabbit Hole, a Facebook page that often reposts right-wing memes and often veers into QAnon territory, claims that while top U.S. medical professionals say the drug doesn’t work, it’s working just fine in other countries.
“Hydroxychloroquine works in Spain, Italy, Brazil. Mexico, France, Germany & elsewhere,” the Facebook post reads. “The only place hydroxychloroquine does not work is the USA, according to Dr. Fauci.”
The post has been shared over 2,300 times, and comments criticize the renouncement of the drug by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“The man has sold his soul, he now works for the Dems in big Pharma! Needs to be replaced” one commenter wrote.
Fact check:Hydroxychloroquine has not worked in treating COVID-19, studies show
Hydroxychloroquine is no more effective abroad than in the U.S.
Hydroxychloroquine is an immunosuppressive drug that was developed decades ago to prevent and treat malaria. It’s also used to treat autoimmune diseases like systemic lupus erythematous and rheumatoid arthritis.
The drug made its way into mainstream conversation after some global leaders, including President Donald Trump, claimed it could be a COVID-19 treatment.
But many scientists and studies have made it clear the drug has not worked in treating COVID-19 – and might even be dangerous.
Fact check:'Thousands' of doctors have not said hydroxychloroquine cures COVID-19
France, Italy and Belgium all moved to stop the use of hydroxychloroquine in May, shortly after the World Health Organization decided to pause a large trial of the drug due to safety concerns. WHO has now discontinued that trial. Germany paused its trial for the same reasons, but is now conducting one trial in patients with mild cases of COVID-19.
Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, who contracted COVID-19 in early July, has pushed for Brazilians to use hydroxychloroquine, saying he used it for his own treatment.
“This was my experience,” he said. “Twelve hours after taking that first dose of hydroxychloroquine, I was 100% better. So, it worked for me. I’m the living proof.”
But scientists in Brazil say there’s no hard evidence hydroxychloroquine is working there. A clinical trial conducted at 55 hospitals across Brazil found the drug to be ineffective, according to a study published July 23 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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In May, Mexico received a donation of hydroxychloroquine that it used to treat 20,000 patients Forbes Mexico reported. Mexico also tops the list of most expensive purchases of hydroxychloroquine, Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported.
But in July, Gustavo Reyes Terán, head of the Coordinating Commission of the National Institutes of Health and High Specialty Hospitals in Mexico, said that there was no evidence the drug works against COVID-19, Milenio, a Spanish-language magazine, reported.
“Hydroxychloroquine is one of the drugs that does have an in-vitro effect in the test tube," he said. "Experimenting with cells reduces viral infection and also has an anti-inflammatory effect. In theory, it was one of the ideal drugs, but when it is carried in a clinical trial it is different, in the human body it is different. Hydroxychloroquine has not shown efficacy."
When most countries stopped testing hydroxychloroquine, Spain continued to use the drug against the coronavirus, according to El País, a Spanish-language daily newspaper in Spain. But after putting the drug through tests, top Spanish scientists found the drug failed as a method to prevent COVID-19.
The countries using or lauding hydroxychloroquine as a treatment — Mexico, Spain, Brazil and the U.S. — are not doing any better than other countries taking different approaches and are ranked as needing action, according to data from EndCoronavirus.org, an international coalition of several thousand volunteers, including scientists and community organizers.
Fauci says hydroxychloroquine does not work, studies back him up
Facebook page The Rabbit Hole pointed to a study put out by the Henry Ford Hospital System in southeast Michigan in response to USA TODAY’s request for comment. That study, released July 2, found that death rates were 50% lower among patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and that the drug posed no safety problems.
Fauci and others called the study flawed, pointing to a number of issues.
"The Henry Ford hospital study ... was confounded by a number of issues, including the fact that many of the people who are receiving hydroxychloroquine were also receiving corticosteroids, which we know from another study gives a clear benefit in reducing deaths with advanced disease," Fauci said during a congressional hearing July 31.
"So that study is a flawed study. ... When I do see a randomized placebo-controlled trial that looks at any aspect of hydroxychloroquine — either early study, middle study or late — if that randomized placebo-controlled trial shows efficacy, I would be the first one to admit it and to promote it."
The study was also criticized as an observational study, which is less rigorous than a randomized trial, USA TODAY reported.
In response to the criticism, the Henry Ford Health System released an open letter, citing its dismay that the current political climate has “made any objective discussion about this drug impossible.”
Multiple other studies have backed up Fauci’s statements, USA TODAY reported.
Our rating: False
We rate the claim that hydroxychloroquine works in other countries, but not in the U.S., as FALSE because it was not supported by our research. None of the countries listed have seen success greater than or equal to the U.S. in treating COVID-19 with the drug. Studies show the drug does not work, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, backs up that fact.
Our fact-check sources:
- Medline Plus, June 15, Hydroxychloroquine
- President Donald Trump tweet, March 21
- USA TODAY, July 21, Fact check: Hydroxychloroquine has not worked in treating COVID-19, studies show
- Reuters, May 27, France, Italy, Belgium to stop use of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus over safety fears
- The Guardian, May 25, WHO halts hydroxychloroquine trial for coronavirus amid safety fears
- World Health Organization, July 4, WHO discontinues hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir treatment arms for COVID-19
- Reuters, May 28, Germany pauses anti-malaria drug study for COVID-19: Spiegel
- ClinicalTrials.gov, May 11, Hydroxychloroquine for the Treatment of Mild COVID-19 Disease (COMIHY)
- BBC News, July 8, Coronavirus: Brazil's President Bolsonaro tests positive
- The World, July 22, Why is Brazil's Bolsonaro peddling hydroxychloroquine despite the science?
- The New England Journal of Medicine, July 23, Hydroxychloroquine with or without Azithromycin in Mild-to-Moderate Covid-19
- Mexico News Daily, May 23, Despite doubts, Mexico to administer hydroxychloroquine to 20,000
- WION News, May 28, Spain will not stop use of HCQ to treat COVID-19 patients, unlike other European nations
- Forbes Mexico, May 11, Novartis dona hidroxicloroquina en México para hacer pruebas en 20,000 pacientes con Covid-19
- La Jornada, July 6, Los medicamentos se encarecen hasta 60%
- Milenio, July 9, Estos son los fármacos que no han mostrado efectividad contra el covid-19
- El Pais, May 27, España seguirá usando la hidroxicloroquina frente al coronavirus pese a la prohibición de Francia y las dudas de la OMS
- El Pais, June 12, La hidroxicloroquina fracasa como método para prevenir la covid-19, según el ensayo de Oriol Mitjà
- EndCoronavirus.org, accessed Aug. 18
- Henry Ford Health System, July 2, Treatment with Hydroxychloroquine Cut Death Rate Significantly in COVID-19 Patients, Henry Ford Health System Study Shows
- PBS News Hour on YouTube, July 31, Widely cited hydroxychloroquine study is ‘flawed’, Fauci tells hearing
- Henry Ford Health System, Aug. 3, Hydroxychloroquine: An Open Letter to Our Community and Beyond
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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.