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Study casts doubt on efficacy of malaria drug touted by Trump, Hasidic doctor

An anti-malaria drug touted by both President Trump and a Hasidic doctor in upstate New York as an important tool in the fight against coronavirus was found in a new study to offer no benefit to hospitalized Covid-19 patients.

The study, with 368 patients, is the largest done so far on the drug, hydroxychloroquine. The study does not have the controls of a clinical drug test — it is based on medical records for veterans being treated for Covid-19 at U.S. veterans hospitals, the AP reported.

It found that 28% of veterans who were given hydroxychloroquine in addition to usual care died, as opposed to 11% of patients who received just usual care.

The protocol developed by the Hasidic doctor, Vladimir Zelenko, was different. He advocated using the drug early on in treating suspected Covid-19 patients in order to prevent the development of such severe symptoms that they needed to go to the hospital. Zelenko’s espousal of the drug received national attention and attracted interest from conservative media figures, as well as White House officials, which contributed to it being adopted in multiple states, even though it was still experimental.

Other doctors expressed interest in Zelenko’s drug regimen, which combines hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and a zinc supplement, or said they supported using the drug to treat Covid-19 patients because of the drug’s relatively mild side affects in most people.

Other recent, smaller studies studies, however, such as one from Brazil, were terminated after patients began developing heart issues, like arrhythmia, which are associated with the drug.

Zelenko has maintained that his regimen, when used on an outpatient basis, has reduced the number of hospitalizations in the Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel, N.Y., where he has hundreds of patients.

Yet doctors are still split on the merit of using the drug for patients who are not in critical condition.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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