France, Italy, and Belgium have decided to halt the use of controversial drug hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 amid questions about efficacy and safety.

France's public health agency on Wednesday issued an order in which it asked the healthcare providers across the country to stop administering hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients as there have been reports of adverse side effects of the drug on patients with severe comorbidities.

A pharmacy worker shows pills of hydroxychloroquine used to treat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Belgium.Courtesy: Reuters

"This molecule must not be prescribed for patients affected by COVID 19," the France Ministry of Solidarity and Health said as it announced the change.

Italy, Belgium also ban hydroxychloroquine

Italian medicine agency (AIFA) and Belgium's medicines agency also suspended the authorization to use the drug to treat the coronavirus any more except within ongoing clinical registered trials.

The moves by the three countries hardest hit by the coronavirus cases come two days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that it has decided to halt the clinical trials of the drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 due to safety concerns.

Decision after WHO halts its clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine

Though France's health ministry did not refer to WHO decision to suspend solidarity trial of hydroxychloroquine, it did cite data that shows that the drug could cause heart problems and other health risks in COVID 19 patients. The treatment can produce "cardiac toxicity, particularly in combination with azithromycin," it said in its announcement.

Reputed medical journal The Lancet in one of its studies had recently reported that patients getting hydroxychloroquine has increased death rates and irregular heartbeat beats, in addition to several disappointing results for the drug as COVID 19 option, according to Reuters.

US President touted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19

US President Donald Trump has frequently touted hydroxychloroquine as a curative treatment for COVID 19. So much so that two weeks ago he said that he had been taking the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine in combination with zinc to protect himself against the coronavirus.

Donald Trump
US President Donald TrumpReuters

It was on his insistence that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised its emergency use. However, both the FDA and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have warned of health risks against using hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 outside of hospital settings.

On May 25, trump informed that he had "just finished" taking a two-week course of the drug.

FDA issued list hydroxychloroquine side effects

The FDA still went ahead and issued a list of potentially dangerous side effects of taking hydroxychloroquine:

"Side effects of hydroxychloroquine include irreversible retinal damage, cardiac effects (including cardiomyopathy and QT prolongation), worsening of psoriasis and porphyria, proximal myopathy and neuropathy, neuropsychiatric events and hypoglycemia."

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug and often been used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and porphyria cutanea tarda.

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, some researchers saw hydroxychloroquine as a promising treatment for COVID-19, but as more clinical trials of the drug were conducted, its side effects outnumbered its benefits.