“Why don’t we use it?” Bruno Retailleau, head of the conservative group Les Républicains in the Senate, asked on France Inter. “It has one advantage: it is not expensive. … Is it because Big Pharma Labs want to make money with the backs of our fellow citizens? ” he added.
Anti-malaria chloroquine and its related compound hydroxychloroquine have been the focus of intense debate in France since Raoult, the director of a university hospital in Marseille. announced what he said were promising results on a small sample of patients in late February.
Since then, people have been queuing outside of his hospital for treatment, even though science has warned of problems with the way Raoult designed and conducted his studies – the results of which were not peer-reviewed by experts before publication.
Raoult’s team examined a small number of patients and selected which ones were treated with the antimalarial drug and which were not. This is against standard practice in clinical trials where patients are randomly assigned to treatment or control groups to avoid bias. The scientists were also unable to collect complete data from some patients and did not follow the study protocol they designed.
Raoult’s social media followers – his Youtube Updates attract over a million visitors – expressing outrage that health authorities don’t allow the drug to be used freely, and forcing the government to publicly justify its strict guidelines for chloroquine, which is only marketed as an antimalarial drug and for certain diseases such as lupus .
“DR. Raoult’s study includes 24 people. What minister of health would I be if, based on a single study of 24 people, I told the French to take a drug that could lead to heart complications in some people?” Said the minister of health Olivier Véran on France 2.
Chloroquine and its compounds have been used to treat Covid-19 patients in several affected countries, including China, but Raoult’s comments contradict the approach of his colleagues, who treated it as one of several drugs that have potential. It is part of four treatments that are currently being tested in an EU-wide clinical trial called Discovery.
In the United States, President Donald Trump’s push for the decade-old malaria drug – he vowed to “make this drug available almost immediately” – disrupted the coronavirus response from public health officials.
Raoult’s latest study, published online on Friday, brought a new wave of criticism from the scientific community.
Some patients treated with hydroxychloroquine died of cardiac arrest, according to the newspaper Le Pointserious concerns about the risks associated with treatment.
A self-described “outsider” In the medical community, 68-year-old Raoult is a respected scientist in his field of microbiology – remarkable for his work on giant viruses – and yet cuts a controversial figure for his skeptical comments Darwin’s lawClimate change some vaccines and even Recommendations for sun exposure and alcohol consumption.
“I don’t care what others think,” he told the local newspaper La provence. “I am not an outsider, I am the one who comes out on top.”
His attitude as a free spirit and his struggles with the Parisian elite have made him a media sensation.
“Paris has a kind of Versailles syndrome from the 18th century. … Everyone talks to everyone, is recommended among friends, it’s very endogamous, “said Raoult liberation. “The world doesn’t work anymore.”
Officials take him seriously, at the highest level.
Raoult was officially a member of the first scientific council set up by French President Emmanuel Macron to advise him on the coronavirus epidemic He stopped attending meetings after a disagreement about the level of screening and testing.
“There is no bad blood between Didier Raoult and the Élysée,” a president spokesman told POLITICO, adding that Macron was associated with him early on in government scientific advisory boards.
“I hear impatience,” said Véran during a press conference with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Saturday. “I speak to Professor Raoult regularly,” he added, pointing out the lack of scientific consensus on his results.
The government allowed chloroquine to be used in hospitals under strict medical supervision last week go ahead by the High Council for Public Health’s Public Health Watchdog, who said it could be used for the most serious Covid 19 cases by appointment between caregivers.
Raoult has some 371,000 supporters on his Facebook group and over 200,000 followers on Twitter. Eric Drouet, Juan Branco, a lawyer and political activist, has supported an influential figure in the French Yellow Jackets protest movement and helped the professor become a social media star.
Conspiracy theorists now use “Dr. Raoult ”keywords as a way to engage in online debates, which can result in public health messages becoming inaudible to many people.
“We now live in a world of fake news and hyper-communication where it is very difficult for government agencies and crisis management actors to distinguish between true and false,” said David Gruson, former health advisor to ex-Prime Minister François Fillon.
With regard to health policy, “there is now greater sensitivity to media phenomena on the one hand, and on the other hand there is a willingness not to lose sense of protecting patient interests,” he added.
The resulting surge in demand in French pharmacies has alarmed experts warning against overwriting unproven drugs and fears that lupus patients who use chloroquine to avoid inflammation related to their autoimmune disease will experience bottlenecks . France 24 reported.
Politically, Macron’s opponents are just too happy to use Raoult and his popularity to undermine the government’s message in the coronavirus crisis.
“Didier Raoult is too unloved by all these beautiful people [from the government] no interest to arouse ” said Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a leading left-wing opponent of Macron, on his blog.
The far-right leaders have also sided with Raoult, along with the leader of the National Rally Marine Le Pen says that general practitioners should be allowed to prescribe chloroquine “immediately” and question the government’s assessment of the situation.
Rym Momtaz and Lauren Morello contributed to this report.