The American Medical Association’s (AMA) top doctor has said that Donald Trump’s promotion of an anti-malarial drug to treat the coronavirus could cause deaths.
According to the head of the AMA, Dr. Patrice Harris, there could be many “negative side effects,” for Americans using hydroxychloroquine.
The president has previously recommended the use of the anti-malarial drug as a possible treatment for the Covid-19 virus, despite White House medical experts cautioning that there is little evidence to support widespread use.
On Sunday, Mr Trump pushed harder in support of hydroxychloroquine, saying it could be a “way out” for the US as the number of cases in the country surpassed 300,000 at the weekend.
“I want them to try it, and it may work and it may not work. But if it doesn’t work, there is nothing lost by doing it,” said President Trump on Sunday. “What do you have to lose?”
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, AMA president Dr Harris commented that Americans had everything to lose.
“There could be deaths. This is a new virus, and so we should not be promoting any medication or drug for any disease that has not been proven and approved by the FDA.”
Hydroxychloroquine has only been made available by the FDA for emergency treatments on a case-by-case basis.
Dr Anthony Fauci, The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) director, has previously cautioned that any evidence of the drug’s potential benefits against coronavirus was “just at best suggestive”.
The AMA president, Dr Harris, warned that no drug should be introduced without medical approval. He added: “It’s unproven. And so certainly there are some limited studies, as Dr. Fauci said. But at this point, we just don’t have the data to suggest that we should be using this medication for Covid-19.”
The comments came as health officials in New York, the state hit hardest by the pandemic, announced that 4,000 coronavirus patients were being treated with hydroxychloroquine in a last ditch attempt to save lives as doctors analyse the drug’s effectiveness.
At the same time, clinical trials are testing whether or not the anti-malarial drug can block transmission of the virus. Results from these tests are expected in around a month’s time.
An ER physician and researcher at Brown University, Dr. Megan Ranney, later told CNN that the president’s advice to Americans made her “nervous”.
According to the physician, the drug’s side effects included “paranoia, hallucinations, suicidal thoughts”, and that “they are common enough that this should not be taken willy-nilly. It is not like water, it is not harmless, and it may have major side effects”.
Last month, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced that some health care providers in his state would combine hydroxychloroquine with an antibiotic drug in emergency cases.
More than 8,000 Americans have now been killed by the coronavirus.