KEY POINTS

  • Hydroxychloroquine was never designed to treat COVID-19, a disease that didn’t exist when it was approved for medical use in 1955 to treat malaria
  • "What do you have to lose?" asked Trump when urging Americans to give hydroxychloroquine a try
  • “Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure,” said the wife of a man from Arizona who died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate

Despite stern opposition from his own medical experts leading the fight against COVID-19, president Donald Trump is still asking Americans to take hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a drug used to treat malaria, lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis, but which has no proven effectiveness against COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine was never designed to treat COVID-19, a disease that didn’t exist when it was first approved for medical use in 1955 to treat malaria. In the U.S., it’s sold under the brand name Plaquenil, among others, and is available in generic form. Hydroxychloroquine is a prescription drug.

On TV last March 20, Trump claimed hydroxychloroquine “looked promising” as a cure for COVID-19. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), was later asked point blank if hydroxychloroquine can be used to treat COVID-19.

“The answer is no,” answered Dr. Fauci emphatically. "And the evidence that you're talking about ... is anecdotal evidence."

In White House briefings on Saturday and Sunday, Trump went further than ever in pushing hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 cure and disregarding Dr. Fauci’s warnings. He goaded Americans to try hydroxychloroquine.

"What do you have to lose?" said Trump on Saturday during the White House coronavirus press briefing. "I’m not looking at it one way or another. But we want to get out of this. If it does work, it would be a shame if we didn’t do it early."

Trump further added, "What do I know? I'm not a doctor, but I have common sense."

In March, an elderly man in Arizona died after he and his wife took chloroquine phosphate, an additive used to clean fish tanks also found in hydroxychloroquine.

“Trump kept saying it was basically pretty much a cure,” said the man’s wife.

On Sunday at the White House briefing, Trump said the U.S. doesn’t have time “to take a couple years” to test the efficacy of a drug that can treat COVID-19. Dr. Fauci later emphasized there is nothing to suggest hydroxychloroquine has any benefit against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“In terms of science, I don’t think we can definitively say it works,” he told CBS’s "Face the Nation."

“The data are really just at best suggestive. There have been cases that show there may be an effect and there are others to show there’s no effect.”

Could these pills help solve the coronavirus crisis? Experts are studying Nivaquine (L), which contains chloroquine, and Plaqueril, which contain hydroxychloroquine Could these pills help solve the coronavirus crisis? Experts are studying Nivaquine (L), which contains chloroquine, and Plaqueril, which contain hydroxychloroquine Photo: AFP / GERARD JULIEN

Other medical experts were more assertive than Dr. Fauci. Americans might be risking their health if they followed Trump's advice to take hydroxychloroquine for a condition for which it's not been tested, argued Dr. James Phillips, professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University hospital.

“We don’t know enough to make medical recommendations,” he said to CNN. "It’s a dangerous message for someone without a medical license to get up there and tell people to try it. You need to listen to physicians, people who understand science, before you go willy-nilly into the medicine cabinet.”