The French government on Wednesday banned treatment of coronavirus patients with anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, AFP reported. Under new rules, the drug can be used only in clinical trials to test its efficacy against the coronavirus. However, doctors working in hospitals can still prescribe it to patients in an unofficial capacity.

The French government acted against the drug after two French advisory bodies and the World Health Organization warned this week that the drug had been shown to be potentially dangerous in several studies. One such study, published in medical journal The Lancet, said that the use of the drug increased the mortality rate of Covid-19 patients in hospital settings.

French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi sells hydroxychloroquine under the brand name Plaquenil. Sanofi has offered to provide other governments millions of doses if studies proved it could be safely used against the coronavirus.

On May 25, the World Health Organization had suspended the trials of hydroxychloroquine, mainly basing its decision on the study published in The Lancet. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual press conference that the trials were being suspended “while the safety is reviewed”.

In March, French doctor Didier Raoult had claimed that a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin could successfully treat coronavirus patients. He has also rejected the study published in The Lancet.

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.

Globally, the coronavirus has so far infected over 56 lakh people, and killed more than 3.51 lakh, according to an estimate by Johns Hopkins University.

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