The World Health Organization on Monday “temporarily suspended” trials of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for treatment of the coronavirus citing safety concerns, AFP reported.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference that the decision was taken based on a study in medical journal The Lancet, published on May 22. The study had said that hydroxychloroquine could increase patient mortality rate in hospitals. The study also found that those administered the drug showed a higher frequency of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Ghebreyesus said the trial was being suspended “while the safety is reviewed”.

India has been using the drug extensively, and has also exported it to many foreign countries, including the United States. On May 22, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare revised its advisory on the use of hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic against the coronavirus. The ministry’s decision came after the National Task Force, constituted by the Indian Council of Medical Research, reviewed and recommended the use of the drug for coronavirus patients.

United States President Donald Trump also holds the drug in high regard. In April, he called Prime Minister Narendra Modi “terrific”, after the Indian government agreed to supply the drug to the United States. On May 18, Trump said that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine over the past couple of weeks. Trump claimed that he was taking the drug because he had “heard a lot of good stories” about it.

The Covid-19 coronavirus, which began in Wuhan city in China in December last year, has spread all over the world. As of Monday evening, over 54 lakh people have been infected globally, and more than 3.45 lakh have died, according to an estimate by Johns Hopkins University.

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