WHO suspended chloroquine trial based on questionable data

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A new report has revealed that the World Health Organisation suspended solidarity trial on the use of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19 patients based on false data.

On May 22, a study published by The Lancet, a medical journal, claimed that chloroquine had no positive effect on the treatment of COVID-19 among 96,032 sampled patients.

Three days later, Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, announced a “temporary pause” in the WHO solidarity trial of the drug, while citing the study.

But while many countries slowed down chloroquine trials for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, Nigeria did not.

Mojisola Adeyeye, director-general of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), had said there is data to prove that chloroquine is effective in treating COVID-19 patients, particularly at the “mild stage” of the virus.

She said Nigeria would continue its clinical trials which may take three to four months.

“There is data to prove that hydroxychloroquine worked for many COVID-19 patients. Therefore, we would continue our own clinical trials in Nigeria. Hydroxychloroquine has been proved to work at a mild stage. So the potency depends on the severity of the disease in the patient’s body,” she had said .

When asked to clarify why the country did not follow the recommendation, Olorunnibe Mammora, minister of state for health, had said WHO could not dictate to the country.

An investigation by The Guardian UK showed that the data used by The Lancet was obtained from Surgisphere, a US-based company whose handful of employees include a science fiction writer and an adult-content model.

The report found that Surgisphere, which claims to run one of the largest and fastest hospital databases in the world, has almost no online presence — less than 170 followers on Twitter and fewer than 100 on its LinkedIn page.

It suggested that several of Surgisphere’s employees have little or no data or scientific background.

The investigation found that Sapan Desai, the company’s chief executive who co-authored the study, has been named in three medical malpractice suits.

In 2008, Desai reportedly launched a crowdfunding campaign for a next generation human augmentation device, but despite receiving hundreds of dollars, the project never came into fruition.

The report also faulted Surgisphere’s claim of access to data from 96,000 patients in 1,200 hospitals around the world, as experts said such study would require many more researchers than the company claims to have.

In reaction, Desai said the firm uses “a great deal of artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate” its activities.

“Surgisphere has been in business since 2008. Our healthcare data analytics services started about the same time and have continued to grow since that time. We use a great deal of artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate this process as much as possible, which is the only way a task like this is even possible,” he said.

Meanwhile, an independent audit of the validity of the data has commenced over “concerns that have been raised about the reliability of the database.”

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