Chloroquine: Why is Switzerland using this controversial drug to treat Covid-19 patients?

Swiss hospitals, like many of their foreign counterparts, are treating coronavirus with the medication that may have potentially serious side effects.

Chloroquine: Why is Switzerland using this controversial drug to treat Covid-19 patients?
CHUV is testing the efficacy of chloroquine. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

To date, no drugs have been developed specifically for Covid-19, so doctors are using chloroquine, a medication that has long been used in the treatment of malaria.

Its virus-inhibiting properties are shown in some studies.

But many medical experts point to serious side effects of this treatment, such as the risk of renal and liver damage.

Despite the polemic, the drug is widely used in Switzerland, including at its two largest university hospitals, CHUV in Lausanne and HUG in Geneva.

At CHUV, 40 percent of Covid-19 patients have been given chloroquine, while that number exceeds 50 percent at HUG, and even reaches 85 percent for those in intensive care.

“This mainly concerns patients who are admitted to hospitals with pneumonia. We immediately consider giving them treatment, and chloroquine is one of them,” Laurent Kaiser, head of the Infectious Diseases Department at HUG told RTS television.

READ MORE: What is Chloroquine and why do some scientists believe it can treat coronavirus?

However, the effectiveness of this drug has not been proven.

“We have to admit that in an epidemic like this, we have to work with the unknown. It is not because a drug has not necessarily shown its full effectiveness that we should not give it, if the balance is in favour of the doubt “, Kaiser added.

Alexandra Calmy from HUG’s Infectious Diseases Service, believes that the approach in Switzerland is pragmatic.

“We have to manage an uncertainty, and the scientific data which is fragmented and not robust enough, but we must respond to the emergency, and I believe that is what we are doing”, she said.

In the meantime, tests are under way.

Blaise Genton, chief medical officer at CHUV’s Unisanté unit, said chloroquine is now tested in Switzerland “for its effectiveness in reducing complications, secondary hospitalisations and possibly even deaths”.

“In fact, we would like to know if chloroquine is effective in an ambulatory environment, that is, say before patients get to the hospital,” he added.


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Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival cancels concerts of unvaccinated British artists

Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival announced on Friday that it was forced to drop the acts of four UK-based artists from its summer program because they haven’t been fully vaccinated yet.

Switzerland's Montreux Jazz Festival cancels concerts of unvaccinated British artists
British singer-songwriter Rag'n'Bone Man was dropped from Montreux Jazx Festival. Photo: GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP

The move was done in order to comply with current Covid-19 entry rules into Switzerland, which state that from June 26th, travellers from outside the Schengen zone, including Brits, will only be allowed to enter Switzerland if they have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus. 

READ ALSO: Switzerland relaxes travel rules for vaccinated Americans and Brits: What you need to know

British soul singer Rag’n’Bone Man who was one of the headliners for the 2021 edition of the festival, which starts on July 2nd, will now no longer be able to attend due to not being fully vaccinated.

Other unvaccinated acts based in the UK who were also dropped because of the new entry rules include Inhaler, Alfa Mist and the Yussef Dayes Trio.

The artists have already been replaced with other performers from around Europe including Italian singer Zucchero, Woodkid, Dutch songwriter Benny Sings and Danish jazz trio Athletic Progression.

In a statement on June 25th, festival organisers said they were trying to make sure that the concerts of the other UK artists would continue to go ahead, however it is tricky because of fears over the Delta strain of the Covid virus, which has now become dominant in Britain.

“Whether or not these artists can come depends on their vaccination status and that of their touring entourage, as well as their ability to quarantine at the start of their European tour or before their concert at Montreux,” they said.

The Montreux Jazz Festival is one of just a small handful of big music festivals in Switzerland that will still go ahead this summer. Other music events such as St Gallen Open-Air, Paléo and Bern’s Gurten festival have been cancelled for the second year in a row, due to ongoing fears over the Covid-19 virus.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: What rules do European countries have for travellers from the UK?