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Video falsely touts hydroxychloroquine as COVID-19 cure

July 28, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: A video makes numerous claims about preventing the coronavirus, stating that hydroxychloroquine can prevent and cure COVID-19, and wearing masks and keeping people locked down have no value.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: The video contains a wide range of false information, much of which has been knocked down multiple times by doctors and researchers who study the coronavirus.

THE FACTS: The video, which features a group that calls itself America’s Frontline Doctors, tells viewers they have been duped into isolating themselves to control the virus and encourages people in the U.S. to return to their normal activities. It relies on unsubstantiated and false information to make the case.

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The video was viewed millions of times and was retweeted by President Donald Trump. Multiple social media platforms removed the video because it contained false information.

Some of the key claims come from Dr. Stella Immanuel, a Houston physician, who says she has successfully treated 350 patients using the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine. She recommends using it alone as a preventive, and with zinc and azithromycin as a cure for COVID-19.

“I came here to Washington, D.C., to tell America nobody needs to get sick,” she said in the video. “This virus has a cure. It is called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and Zithromax. I know you people want to talk about a mask. Hello? You don’t need mask. There is a cure. I know they don’t want to open schools. No, you don’t need people to be locked down. There is prevention and there is a cure.”

Claims that hydroxychloroquine is effective in treating the coronavirus have been widely debunked by top health officials and the drug has been a part of several national studies.

The majority of evidence has shown that the drug does not prove to be an effective treatment.

“There is no evidence done in a rigorous study that shows hydroxychloroquine in combination with azithromycin or zinc or whatever combination you use that has any benefit in the treatment of coronavirus to date,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar who specializes in infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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In June, the U.S Food and Drug Administration revoked its emergency use authorization for the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat COVID-19, basing its decision on large and randomized clinical trials of hospitalized patients.

The FDA said that the drugs “showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery.”

The video attempts to falsely bolster its claim about hydroxychloroquine by citing a 2005 study from the National Institutes of Health. The study examined the effects of chloroquine on SARS and found that there were strong antiviral effects on SARS with the drug. But the health professionals in the video failed to mention that the study looked at the effect of the drug on primate cells, not humans, and that chloroquine is not the same drug as hydroxychloroquine. Also, while SARS and the current coronavirus come from the same family of viruses, they are not the same.

The NIH recently conducted its own study of hydroxychloroquine on the coronavirus and found that it offered no benefits to patients.

The Associated Press reported on a nationwide study released in April that looked at 368 patients and how they responded to hydroxychloroquine with or without the antibiotic azithromycin, also known as Zithromax. The analysis of the use of the drugs in the U.S. veterans’ hospitals revealed that there were more deaths among those who were given the malaria drug versus standard care.

While there has been evidence that the hydroxychloroquine has an effect against the coronavirus in a laboratory setting, it does not appear to have any kind of beneficial effect in humans, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar who specializes in infectious diseases at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Despite the evidence, some health professionals continue to push the drug as a cure for coronavirus. The World Health Organization has said there is currently no cure for the virus, which has killed more than 148,278 people in the U.S.

Dr. Simone Gold, one of the doctors featured in the video, shared a tweet commenting on the backlash the video has received.

“There are always opposing views in medicine,” she tweeted. “Treatment options for COVID-19 should be debated, and spoken about among our colleagues in the medical field. They should never, however, be censored and silenced.”

The video not only touted hydroxychloroquine but it also attacked recommendations made by top health officials to combat the virus. In the video, Immanuel says Americans don’t need a mask because hydroxychloroquine is the cure. Experts have said time and time again that wearing a mask helps reduce the spread of coronavirus along with keeping six feet apart. While lockdowns may disrupt day-to-day life, health experts agree that they limit the transmission of the virus.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536