The Lancet casts doubt over hydroxychloroquine study

In a statement, the medical journal acknowledged “important” questions over the research. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 03 June 2020

The Lancet casts doubt over hydroxychloroquine study

  • Its publication last month triggered the WHO to announce it was pausing clinical trials of the drugs
  • France was among the countries to also halt COVID-19 treatment with hydroxychloroquine

PARIS: The Lancet has issued an “expression of concern” over a large-scale study of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine it published that led to the World Health Organization suspending clinical trials of the anti-viral drugs as a potential treatment for COVID-19.
In a statement, the medical journal acknowledged “important” questions over the research, after dozens of scientists issued an open letter last week raising concerns about its methodology and transparency around the data, which was provided by the firm Surgisphere.
“Although an independent audit of the provenance and validity of the data has been commissioned by the authors not affiliated with Surgisphere and is ongoing, with results expected very shortly, we are issuing an Expression of Concern to alert readers to the fact that serious scientific questions have been brought to our attention,” The Lancet said Tuesday.
While an expression of concern is not as severe as a journal withdrawing a published study, it signifies that the research is potentially problematic.
The observational study looked at records for 96,000 patients and concluded that treatment with hydroxychloroquine, which is normally used to treat arthritis, and chloroquine, an anti-malarial, showed no benefit and even increased the likelihood of patients dying in hospital.
Its publication last month triggered the WHO to announce it was pausing clinical trials of the drugs.
France was among the countries to also halt COVID-19 treatment with hydroxychloroquine.
It has whipped up fresh controversy over hydroxychloroquine, which has been endorsed by public figures including US President Donald Trump despite concerns over its side effects and a lack of evidence that it is effective.
The study’s authors, led by Mandeep Mehra of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US, looked at data from hundreds of hospitals between December and April and compared those who received treatment with a control group.
It followed numerous smaller studies that suggested hydroxychloroquine is ineffective in treating COVID-19 and might even be more dangerous than doing nothing.
But in an open letter last week, a group of scientists raised “both methodological and data integrity concerns” about it.
These included a lack of information about the countries and hospitals that contributed to the data provided by Chicago-based health care data analytics firm Surgisphere.
While The Lancet corrected a discrepancy in data from Australia, the authors said they stood by their findings and announced an independent review.
But concerns over the underlying data continued, and this week the New England Journal of Medicine also issued an expression of concern over another study using the Surgisphere database that looked at cardiovascular drugs and COVID-19.
Among the most outspoken critics of The Lancet study has been Marseille-based professor Didier Raoult, whose own work has been at the forefront of promoting hydroxychloroquine and has also been subject to criticisms over methodology.
But other critics, like Francois Balloux of University College London, raised concerns over the way the study was conducted, even though they are skeptical the drugs themselves would work as a treatment for COVID-19.
Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at Oxford University said the controversy should spark “serious reflection” over the quality of the peer review process.
“Scientific publication must above all be rigorous and honest. In an emergency, these values are needed more than ever,” he said.
He added, however, that decisions to halt trials on the basis of an observational study were “completely unjustified.”
A spokesman for the WHO last week said a comprehensive review of the drugs was expected to reach a conclusion in mid-June.


Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

Updated 29 November 2020

Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

  • Fake donation by undercover reporters reveals sophisticated terror network

LONDON: A Daesh fundraising operation based in the UK seeking to free Western jihadi brides from Syrian refugee camps has been exposed by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Undercover journalists spoke with a “fixer” in Turkey before exposing a “courier” in London collecting what he thought was a £4,500 ($5,987) donation to the operation.
But the brown envelope hidden at the “dead drop” by undercover journalists contained only a crossword book. In response to the revelations, London’s Metropolitan Police have opened an investigation.
The Syrian camps targeted by the operation for escape bids include Al-Hol, where Shamima Begum, who fled Britain aged 15 to join Daesh, was held.
A report last week revealed the existence of an Instagram group called Caged Pearls, run by British women detained in Al-Hol who are raising money to finance their escape from the camps.
The page promotes awareness of its mission through a poster reading: “Al-Hol — The cradle of the new Caliphate.”
One woman raising funds in the camp was named as “Sumaya Holmes,” who had been smuggled out of the camp and traveled to Turkey.
Holmes is said to be the widow of a British Daesh fighter who died in Syria, and the current wife of a Bosnian extremist serving jail time in his home country.
Holmes asks for donations on her Facebook page and posts pictures of women holding up posters begging for help.
One poster said: “I am a sister from camp Al-Hol and I need $6,000 so that I can escape from PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Please, I ask everyone to help me and donate as much as they can.”
Holmes captioned the image: “This is my friend and she is in need of help. She sent me this photo yesterday. Please, even if you can’t help, pass it to those who can donate to her.”
Another image posted by Holmes shows a woman holding a piece of paper that says: “I am your Muslim sister in Al-Hol camp. I need help from my brothers and sisters to be freed from the hands of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). I need $7,000 to be able to get out with my children.” The message added: “You can trust Sumaya Holmes on Facebook, she is trying to help me raise money needed.”
A Mail on Sunday reporter posed as a drug dealer who had converted to Islam. They messaged Holmes on Facebook to offer support and money.
Holmes then requested to communicate on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by extremists and criminals for its high levels of security and privacy.
She asked for a Bitcoin donation but the undercover reporter declined. She then suggested making a bank deposit in an associate’s account in Jordan, and then hawala, an Islamic method of transferring money that uses a broker system. But the undercover journalist declined again.
Holmes finally provided details of a man called “Anas” in London who could collect funds in person. When an offer to donate was made, Holmes accepted.
In the meantime, she had been actively posting her support for Daesh on Facebook. In one post, she described the Chechen who beheaded teacher Samuel Paty last month as a “hero.”
In London, a second undercover reporter set up a meeting with “Anas” to deliver cash for the operation.
But the reporter changed the plan and left an envelope containing only a crossword book at the agreed-upon location.
As the journalists watched carefully, a man wearing a white crash helmet soon arrived on a scooter.
He found the package and messaged the reporter: “File received, let me check the money and tell you.”
He soon discovered the ruse, telling the undercover reporter: “There are no money in the envelope, there is only a book? It seems that you are not serious about your subject.”
When confronted again, “Anas” denied any involvement in the exchange, which would be illegal under British law had the envelope contained cash. “No, no, I don’t take anything, you are wrong,” he said.
Later, Holmes also denied her involvement. “That’s not true, good luck with publishing your lies,” she said.
The latest estimates suggest that about 300 of the 900 Britons who traveled to Syria to join Daesh are back on British streets.
Dr. Vera Mironova, a Daesh expert and research fellow at Harvard University, said: “To escape from the camps costs about $18,000 and the success of these campaigns shows the sheer amount Daesh are able to raise online.”
She added: “Once the women are smuggled out, it is impossible to monitor them. The women who collect money online are still with Daesh and are trusted and supported by members worldwide. They work with a network of supporters globally.”