Ministry of Health opts for Ebola drug to treat Covid-19

Monday July 6 2020


A Covid-19 Treatment Center in Kigali.Emergency use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus has been withdrawn by the Ministry of Health. Photo | Cyril Ndegeya  

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Rwanda Today has learnt that in April, Ministry of Health had endorsed emergency use of hydroxychloroquine for mild cases of coronavirus.

Authorities said the decision was based on the result of clinical trials in countries where the virus started, which had confirmed an antimalarial drug to have a curative effect on the novel coronavirus disease.

The drug was last week pulled from the United Kingdom’s recovery trial, which was run by the University of Oxford.

At the start of the pandemic, laboratory studies had suggested the malaria drug could affect the virus. Small scale studies in China and France then hinted it could help patients.

There was high hope as the medicine is affordable and has been safely used to treat malaria and conditions such as lupus and arthritis. But the evidence supporting its use for coronavirus has been weak.

Officials from Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), said multiple clinical trials showed that it was no longer reasonable to believe that the drug would produce an antiviral effect.


“We are using the Ebola drug Remdesivir which has passed multiple clinical trials for its effectiveness on people who are hospitalised with severe or mild Covid-19,” Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, director-general of Rwanda Biomedical Centre.

“Many clinical trials showed the drug helped shorten recovery time for people who were seriously ill. However, it did not significantly improve survival rates,” he said
The drug interferes with the virus's genome, disrupting its ability to replicate.

“We earlier considered hydroxychloroquine in our treatment plan after it was recommended by US Food and Drug Authority (FDA), but later it was found to be ineffective for hospitalized patients with Covid-19,” said Dr Nsanzimana.

Dr Nsanzimana told Rwanda Today that the clinical studies had suggested that hydroxychloroquine was effective in treating the deadly virus and failed to prevent infection among those exposed to it.

He explained that trials around the world were temporarily derailed when a study published in The Lancet claimed the drug increased fatalities and heart problems in some patients.

The Lancet results prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) and others to halt trials over safety concerns.

Remdesivir is produced by Gilead pharmaceutical company in California and the manufacturer on its website says although the drug may aid recovery and possibly stop people having to be treated in intensive care, the trials did not give any clear indication whether it can prevent deaths from coronavirus.