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HEALTH

Researchers in France find malaria drug has ‘no positive effect’ on coronavirus patients

Hydroxychloroquine - the drug heavily hyped as a Covid-19 cure and promoted by Donald Trump - had no positive effect and caused other health complications, two new studies showed Friday.

Researchers in France find malaria drug has 'no positive effect' on coronavirus patients
Two new studies have not backed up the claims of Professor Didier Raoult for hydroxychloroquine. Photo: AFP

The anti-malaria drug was promoted by Marseille-based professor Didier Raoult as a wonder treatment and has been touted by US President Donald Trump among others as a potential “game changer”, after initial studies in lab settings showed it may be able to prevent the virus replicating.

The drug also became a hot topic for conspiracy theorists, who claimed that the French government and pharmaceutical companies were deliberately suppressing a cheap and effective treatment.

But several subsequent studies – including one funded by the US government – appear to have doused hopes that it can help patients hospitalised with Covid-19.

In the first study released on Friday, researchers in France monitored 181 patients hospitalised with pneumonia due to Covid-19 and who needed oxygen.

Eighty-four were treated with hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and 97 were not.

They found no meaningful difference between the groups for either transfer to intensive care, death within seven days or developing acute respiratory distress syndrome within 10 days.

“Hydroxychloroquine has received worldwide attention as a potential treatment for Covid-19 because of positive results from small studies,” said the authors of the research, published in the BMJ journal.

“However, the results of this study do not support its use in patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 who require oxygen.”

A second study saw researchers in China split 150 Covid-19 patients in to two groups, one of which received HCQ.

After four weeks tests revealed similar rates of sustained infection among both groups, though adverse reactions to treatment were more common in the HCQ group. 

Nor did the severity or duration of symptoms differ between each group.

Hydroxychloroquine and a related compound chloroquine have been used for decades to treat malaria, as well as the autoimmune disorders lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Last month the European Medicines Agency warned that there was no indication HCQ could treat COVID-19 and said some studies had seen serious and sometimes fatal heart problems in patients.

France has been running clinical trials on severely ill patients in hospitals on HCQ as well as existing drugs for the treatment of AIDS, Ebola and hepatitis.

 

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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