President Donald Trump holds a press briefing with members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on April 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that all Americans should wear masks or cloth face coverings in public settings.
Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump has repeatedly endorsed two experimental drugs as a potential treatment for Covid-19.
  • The drugs - chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine- are often used for the prevention and treatment of certain types of malaria, as well as for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and a limited number of other conditions.
  • "If it works, that will be great, if it doesn't work ... it doesn't kill people," he claimed during a press briefing on Sunday.
  • But Trump's assurance to Americans that the drugs come without serious risks contradicts medical experts who have warned against using the medication without a prescription, as they have been found to cause harmful side effects and even death.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

President Donald Trump used his daily press briefing on Sunday to enthusiastically endorse two experimental drugs as a potential treatment for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The drugs - chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine- are often used for the prevention and treatment of certain types of malaria. It is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and a limited number of other conditions.

"It's a powerful drug on malaria, and there are scientific works on this. Some strong signs," Trump said, adding that the US has a stockpile of over 29 million pills for its potential use in fighting Covid-19.

"What do you have to lose?" he said, referring to using the pills for possible coronavirus treatment. "If it does work, it would be a shame if we didn't do it early."

He also said of one of the drugs, hydroxychloroquine, "it's not going to hurt people."

He admitted that his knowledge of the potential risks of the drug was limited, adding: "What do I know, I'm not a doctor ... but I have common sense."

There is little clinical evidence so far that proves these drugs are effective against Covid-19, and large trials are underway. Trump doubled down on his endorsement of the medications later in the press conference, claiming that using the untested drugs outweighed potential risk.

"It doesn't kill people," he said of the medication. "We don't have time to go and say, 'Let's take a couple of years to test it out.'"

But Trump's assurance to Americans that the drugs come without serious risks comes contradicts medical experts who have warned against using the medications without a prescription, as they have been found to cause harmful side effects and even death.

Researchers have been testing a number of existing drugs for any potential leads in treating the virus. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration issued emergency authorisation of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for use in experimental Covid-19 treatment.

The Department of Health and Human Services said in a press release that clinical trials are still needed "to provide scientific evidence that these treatments are effective."

Anecdotal evidence has indicated that the drugs helped Covid-19 patients, though there have not been any peer-reviewed or clinical data to suggest it's an effective treatment against the virus. There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for the disease.

Short-term side effects of the medication include nausea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. Serious side effects or prolonged treatment include liver failure, hearing loss, and muscle paralysis.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned against taking the drug without medical supervision last month, as some people took non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate, a chemical used to clean home aquariums, instead of the medications approved by the FDA.

"Chloroquine phosphate, when used without a prescription and supervision of a healthcare provider, can cause serious health consequences, including death," the CDC said last week. "Currently, these medications are being studied and evaluated as treatment for Covid-19; however, their efficacy to either prevent or treat this infection are unknown."

The CDC added that overdosing on the medication or taking it inappropriately can lead to severe toxicity.

There have also been deaths and illnesses associated with the misuse of the drug. A man in Arizona died after self-medicating with chloroquine phosphate used as fish tank cleaner, Arizona's non-profit health system Banner Health reported.

"Given the uncertainty around Covid-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so," Dr. Daniel Brooks, Banner Poison and Drug Information Center medical director, said in the press release.

Nigeria has also recorded cases of chloroquine poisoning after Trump's endorsement, according to CNN. And a 2018 review article warned that the drug could cause neurological side effects in some people.

Even those within Trump's close circle are skeptical about Trump's endorsement of the drug have warned of the risks.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of Trump's White House Coronavirus Task Force, told CBS's Face the Nation earlier on Sunday that evidence on the drug's effectiveness is misplaced.

"In terms of science, I don't think we could definitively say it works," he said.

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