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HEALTH

French professor faces being struck off over his claims of coronavirus ‘cure’

The controversial French professor who vigorously defended the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to help beat coronavirus has been targeted by an ethics complaint that could see him face sanctions or barred from practising, a medical association said on Thursday.

French professor faces being struck off over his claims of coronavirus 'cure'
Professor Didier Raoult faces an ethics complaint over his claims on hydroyychloroquine. Photo: AFP

The Marseille-based Didier Raoult is accused in the complaint by medical peers of spreading false information about the benefits of hydroxychloroquine.

US and Brazilian presidents Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro seized upon Raoult's promotion of hydroxychloroquine and have trumpeted its benefits since the pandemic erupted.

But the method and conclusions of Raoult's studies were challenged from the start by critics and other scientists who said they had not been peer reviewed and were observational, not controlled.

A group representing 500 specialists of France's Infectious Diseases Society (SPILF) filed a complaint with the national Order of Doctors against Raoult in July, accusing him of breaking nine rules of the doctors' code of ethics, French newspaper Le Figaro said on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the association told AFP that the complaint had been filed but said it would not make any further comment while the procedure was in progress.

Raoult, who heads the infectious diseases department of La Timone hospital in Marseille, said in March that his study of 80 patients showed “favourable” outcomes for four in five of those treated with hydroxychloroquine.

But the six-page complaint, seen by Le Figaro, slammed the promotion of the drug “without any real scientific evidence on the subject, and against the health authorities' recommendations”.

“We can ask ourselves whether his unequivocal points of view… harmed public health recommendations,” the complaint added.

Raoult risks sanctions ranging from a warning to a ban on practising.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the colourful scientist with shoulder-length blond hair and a grey beard on April 9th at the height of the pandemic, when the French were observing strict stay-at-home rules.

Contacted by AFP, La Timone's infectious diseases department declined to comment.

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HEALTH

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

An investigation has revealed that tap water supplied to some 12 million people in France was sometimes contaminated with high levels of pesticides last year.

Where in France are there concerns about pesticides in drinking water

Data from regional health agencies, and collated by Le Monde, found that supplies to about 20 percent of the population, up from 5.9 percent the year previously, failed to consistently meet regional quality standards. 

The study highlighted regional differences in tap water quality. Hauts-de-France water was the most likely to be affected, with 65 percent of the population there drinking water contaminated by unacceptable pesticide levels. In Brittany, that level fell to 43 percent; 25.5 percent in the Grand-Est, and 25 percent in the Pays de la Loire.

Occitanie, in southwest France, meanwhile, showed the lowest level of non-compliance with standards, with just 5.1 percent of the region’s population affected by high pesticide levels in their tap water. However, figures show that 71 percent of people in one département in the region, Gers, were supplied with water containing high levels of pesticides.

Regional discrepancies in testing, including what chemicals are tested for, mean that results and standards are not uniform across France. Tap water in Haute-Corse is tested for 24 pesticide molecules; in Hauts-de-Seine, that figure rises to 477. 

One reason for regional testing standards are differences in local agricultural requirements.

Part of the increase in the year-on-year number of households supplied with affected water may also be explained by the fact that tests in many regions now seek to trace more molecules, Le Monde noted.

Water quality standards in France are strict – with a limit for pesticide residues set at 0.1 microgramme per litre, so the “high” levels found in tap water supplies may not represent a danger to health.

The question of the level of health risk to humans, therefore, remains unclear. The Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail (Anses) has not defined a maximum safety level for 23 pesticides or their metabolites. Le Monde cites two metabolites of chloridazone, a herbicide used until 2020 on beet fields, for which only provisional safety levels in tap water have been set. 

Many of these molecules and their long-term effects remain unknown – and “the long-term health effects of exposure to low doses of pesticides are difficult to assess,” admits the Ministry of Health.

Michel Laforcade, former director general of the ARS Nouvelle-Aquitaine told Le Monde that health authorities have “failed” on this subject. 

“One day, we will have to give an account,” he said. “It may not be on the same scale as the contaminated blood affair, but it could become the next public health scandal.”

In December 2020, the Direction générale de la santé (DGS) recommended “restricting uses of water” as soon as the 0.1 micrograms per litre quality threshold is exceeded, in cases of residues for which there is no formal maximum health value.

But this principle is not always applied, according to France 2’s Complètement d’enquête programme.

In December 2021, the DGS asked the Haut conseil de la santé publique (HCSP) “for support on the management of health risks associated with the presence of pesticides and pesticide metabolites in water intended for human consumption.”

The HCSP, in response, said that “an active and urgent policy must be implemented to reduce the contamination of resources by pesticides”.

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