by Imogen Shaw
Tuesday, 7
April 2020
Explainer
11:45

False cures for Covid-19 are endangering my health

My access to hydroxychloroquine has been jeopardised since its rise to fame
by Imogen Shaw
The ‘maverick’ French doctor Didier Raoult has touted hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure

How would you feel if a drug you rely on every day was being sold as a miracle cure for Coronavirus?

I take hydroxychloroquine daily to manage the symptoms of an autoimmune disease, as do many people who have Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis or other overlapping conditions. Since a small sample study by a “maverick” French doctor was brought to the attention of the global media, access to my medication has been jeopardised.

Donald Trump and Jair Bolsanaro have touted it as a potential miracle cure for Covid-19. India — the chief manufacturer of hydroxychloroquine — has banned exports of the drug, and other countries have followed suit. New York hospitals are using it to treat around 4,000 seriously ill patients, and further testing is being carried out from China to the EU.

When I first heard reports that I could already be on medicine that helps treat Covid-19, I couldn’t help feeling a bit relieved – how could I not, when I was being sold even the remote possibility of advance protection from the biggest public health crisis in a century?

But as the US reports shortages of hydroxychloroquine, and we start to see this replicated elsewhere, many of us are now faced with the prospect of personal health crises in the middle of a public health catastrophe.

Rheumatologists often prescribe hydroxychloroquine as a first-line treatment. Unlike immunosuppressive drugs, it doesn’t increase susceptibility to viral or bacterial illnesses.

If autoimmune disease sufferers can’t access hydroxychloroquine, we are likely to experience flares in our symptoms. Other treatment options are usually limited to immunosuppressants or steroids — both of which carry an increased risk of contracting Covid-19. This is a potentially deadly double bind: if we’re not careful, the rise of hydroxychloroquine as a Covid-19 treatment could drive an increase in the number of people vulnerable to Covid-19.

Much like the arguments over its efficacy, this doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be prescribed for Covid-19 at all. It might work; it might not. It might work sometimes and not others. In a pandemic, research has to happen on the go, and if it saves even a few lives then it will be worth it.

But we have to be sensible about how we do this. There’s been an understandable rise in people wanting to roll hydroxychloroquine out across the board immediately, even to take it preventatively — despite the fact there is no evidence this will work. There have even been reports of people trying to get prescriptions for it illegitimately.

On behalf of everyone who relies on hydroxychloroquine to stay healthy, please don’t try to take it if you don’t need to. Trust us — we and our health services will be better off for it.

Join the discussion


  • Thank you Douglas. As always a rational and fact-based analysis. I am startled that there are no responses here … on such a misguided (or deceptive) attitude by so many UK-based members of the journalistic ‘profession’.

    For the British Jewish community, a public conversation on Labour’s overt, well-proven, anti-semitism is urgent AND surely the least ‘we’, (as a democratic Nation) owe to a Community which has contributed so much, in so many areas of cultural and professional development?

    PS. I am not Jewish but have enjoyed a lifetime of friendship (which included) both creative and intellectual challenge, from members of that Community.

  • You look past the the spin that the commentariat – however skillfully – present to the public, and pull away the curtain to reveal their true motives. Motives they may not always fully be aware of themselves. You’ve done this in your books, and do it again here. Thank you, Douglas.

  • Mr. Hayes seems bent on inventing or advertising a new boogeyman, as if we hadn’t enough already. Yet, by the end of his article I’m no wiser than I was at the start, still unaware who or what exactly these “Traditionalists” are and what distinguishes them from common-or-garden Fascists or Buddhists or just plain “traditionalists” with a small “t”. In any case, I don’t expect to hear much more about them.

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