The WHO guideline on drugs to prevent COVID-19: small numbers- big conclusions
Schilling WHK., Callery JJ., Chandna A., Hamers RL., Watson JA., White NJ.
The World Health Organization (WHO) living guideline on drugs to prevent COVID-19 has recently advised that ongoing trials evaluating hydroxychloroquine in chemoprophylaxis should stop. The WHO guideline cites “high certainty” evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that hydroxychloroquine prophylaxis does not reduce mortality and does not reduce hospital admission, and “moderate certainty” evidence of poor tolerability because of a significantly increased rate of adverse events leading to drug discontinuation. Yet there is no such evidence. In the three pre-exposure chemoprophylaxis RCTs evaluated in the guideline there were no deaths and only two COVID-19-related hospital admissions, and there was a mistake in the analysis of the number of discontinuations (after correction there is no longer a statistically significant difference between those taking the drug and the controls). Guidelines on the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 should be based on sufficient verified evidence, understanding of the disease process, sound statistical analysis and interpretation, and an appreciation of global needs. The WHO living guideline on the prevention of COVID-19 should retract the advice to stop research on hydroxychloroquine chemoprophylaxis, should correct its errors, and should revise its guidance.