200 Kenyans volunteer in controversial chloroquine for Covid prevention trials

Two hundred of a targeted 1,600 Kenyans are participating in a global study testing whether the drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine can prevent Covid 19 infection.

The role of the two related drugs in the management of Covid 19 remains controversial with the World Health Organisation strongly recommending they should not be used either in treatment or prevention.

However, promotors of the study called COPCOV, say WHO relied on unverified evidence and suggest the drug may have some preventive benefits.

The trials sponsored by Oxford University, UK, are coordinated locally by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

Mainly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they are part of the global COPCOV study targeting to recruit 40,000 participants.

But so far the study has only recruited about 1,332 volunteers with Kenyans among the top volunteers in Africa (see attached pie chart).

The chart shows participating countries and the number of people who had volunteered from each country by 9th July 2021.

Questions

Consequently, study leaders, Nick White and Will Schilling of Oxford University UK and Thailand have made a passionate appeal for speeding up the trials.

“Timelines are tight if COPCOV is to answer the question as to whether chloroquine/ hydroxychloroquine can prevent Covid 19,” posted the duo on the KEMRI Welcome Trust website.

They say the study has the ability to conclusively answer whether the two related drugs are beneficial in the management of Covid 19.

Launched in Thailand in April 2020, the COPCOV study was paused soon after following claims, since discounted, suggesting the drug increased the risk of death in hospitalized patients.

World Health Organisation

COPCOV received another major setback in March this year when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that hydroxychloroquine, should not be used to prevent or treat Covid 19 patients.

The world body in a strong recommendation also said the drug has no meaningful effect on patients already infected.

“The drug should not be used in the fight against the pandemic,” a WHO expert panel wrote in the British Medical Journal.

Citing what it called high certainty evidence, the panel said, “it is not worthwhile,” doing further studies on its suitability in the management of Covid 19.

“This is wrong,” says White and Schilling. They argue there is still a lot of uncertainty about the drug in the management of Covid 19 with some evidence indicating moderate benefits.

No verifiable evidence

In their earlier letter published in Wellcome Open Research online platform, they and others say the WHO decision is not based on any verifiable evidence hence their study should continue.

“Now more than ever, this study is needed, and with the recently increased recruitment, success is once again in our sights!” they posted.

The COPCOV study has already been approved by Kenya’s Pharmacy and Poisons Board.

The approved application says the trials will be conducted in four sites in Kenya; Kilifi, Mombasa, Nairobi, and Kisumu.

“We aim to recruit up to 1,600 participants across all sites. We will enroll health care workers who are at high risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

By Gatonye Gathura

Relevant links: https://www.tropicalmedicine.ox.ac.uk/news/recruitment-surges-in-copcov-covid-19-prevention-study?ref=image

https://doi.org/10.12688/wellcomeopenres.16741.1

About Gatonye Gathura 126 Articles
Science Journalist

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