Australian infectious disease researchers have raised the alarm about fake data in a study published in The Lancet denouncing the drug hydroxychloroquine in the treatment Covid-19. The Australian Department of Health has been stockpiling millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine.
The Lancet study prompted the World Health Organization to halt global trials on the drug even though it has been considered to be safe for decades already.
Dr Allen Cheng, an epidemiologist and infectious disease in Melbourne, told Guardian Australia he has never heard of Surgisphere, and no one from his hospital, The Alfred, had provided Surgisphere with data for The Lancet. “If they got this wrong, what else could be wrong?” Cheng warned. Another “red flag” for Cheng is that the paper listed only four authors.
He demanded that the Australian hospitals allegedly involved in the study be named.
The study, led by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Center for Advanced Heart Disease in Boston, in the US, examined patients in hospitals worldwide, including allegedly in Australia. It claimed that researchers had gained access to data from five hospitals recording 600 Australian Covid-19 patients and 73 Australian deaths as of 21 April.
But data from Johns Hopkins University shows only 67 deaths from Covid-19 had been recorded in Australia by 21 April. The number did not rise to 73 until 23 April. The Lancet data is not readily available in Australian clinical databases either.
Guardian Australia also contacted the health departments of Australia’s two most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, both registering the highest number of Covid-19 cases. Of the Australian deaths reported by 21 April, 14 were in Victoria and 26 in NSW.
The NSW Department of Health said it never provided Lancet researchers with the data from its databases, while Victoria’s department said the Lancet data did not reconcile with the state’s Coronavirus data, including hospital admissions and deaths.
The Lancet responded to the claims of faked data provided by the lead author of the study, Dr Mandeep Mehra: “We have asked the authors for clarifications, we know that they are investigating urgently, and we await their reply.”
In a statement, Surgisphere founder Dr Sapan Desai, also an author on the Lancet paper, claimed a hospital from Asia had accidentally been included in the Australian data.
Spain will continue to use hydroxychloroquine against the Coronavirus despite the French ban and the WHO’s sudden doubts, Spanish daily El Paìs reported.
The Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) considers that the recent study published in The Lancet that warned about the risks of hydroxychloroquine does not provide conclusions “strong enough” to stop using this drug in Spain or stop research underway in hospitals.
This position contrasts with that adopted by France, which has just banned the use of this drug to treat Covid-19, and the doubts of the World Health Organization (WHO), which has suspended all trials. In both cases, the decision was taken after the questionable study was published in The Lancet.
Also, in the UK, the University of Edinburgh said it would continue their trial of the drug.
In France, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, the leader of Debout la France party, said the government’s ban on hydroxychloroquine goes against the right to an inexpensive and effective medicine.
“This is a real state scandal”, said Dupont-Aignan. “The French government, because of stupidity or corruption, refuses French citizens treatment with hydroxychloroquine, which can save lives. And I think that the French will soon be outraged, because today this treatment is effective in many countries throughout the world”.
He said pressure came from pharmaceutical labs and vaccine promoters looking to earn billions if other treatments are banned. “Professor Raoul and his treatment regimen is like a little pebble in the boot of large pharmaceutical labs”, the politician noted.
Dupont-Aignan said Big Pharma influenced the decision taken by the WHO after The Lancet faked the data. “The WHO is influenced by pharmaceutical labs; it has lost credibility. The Lancet published a study – fabricated, not true – whose authors want to convince [people] that prescribing chloroquine is dangerous, that it is cardiotoxic… And we can clearly see the shadow of laboratories that want to sell us more expensive drugs or a hypothetical vaccine behind this fight against chloroquine, an inexpensive (almost free) medicine that could save hundreds of thousands of lives”.
According to him, the danger is that the French government “seeks to impose official medicine”. He added: “For over 70 years, chloroquine has been on the open market in our country. This is not a new drug. It has no contra-indications. It just needs to be prescribed reasonably, and that is what doctors should do.”