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Australian researchers fear others will follow Donald Trump's decision to take unproven drug to prevent coronavirus

President Donald Trump says he's been taking an anti-malarial drug for about a week and a half. Source: AAP

An expert panel tasked with assessing global evidence about COVID-19 and its potential treatments says the jury is out on a drug the US president is using.

There's simply not enough evidence to support Donald Trump's use of a malaria drug to protect himself against COVID-19, an Australian coronavirus taskforce says.

The US president has revealed he's taking hydroxychloroquine daily because he's "heard a lot of good stories" about it and thinks it might keep him safe.

He also admits his doctor didn't recommend the drug.

In fact, he asked for it after spending weeks pushing it as a potential cure - against the views of some medical experts in his own administration.

Production of hydroxychloroquine has increased in India since Donald Trump's endorsement.
Production of hydroxychloroquine has increased in India since Donald Trump's endorsement.
AAP

Australia's National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce is reviewing global evidence about the virus and possible treatments every single day.

Associate Professor Julian Elliott, who chairs the group, fears others will follow the president's lead.

"His statement is confusing to people because there are known risks with these drugs, and we don't yet know whether any of the drugs that have been talked about, including hydroxychloroquine have any true benefits," he told SBS News. 

Professor Elliott is a leading authority on how to convert large volumes of new research into reliable, evidence-based clinical advice.

"As a national body that is monitoring the evidence daily, there is no evidence to suggest anyone should take hydroxychloroquine either for prevention or treatment," Professor Elliott said. 

White House physician Sean Conley confirmed he had given Mr Trump the drug after he expressed interest in trying it. 

"After numerous discussions he and I had regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks," the doctor said in the memo released by the White House.

He said he would continue to monitor the myriad studies into potential COVID-19 drugs across the world.

Professor Elliott said the drug should only be used for COVID-19 in the context of a carefully managed clinical trial.

"Hydroxychloroquine is being examined in multiple trials. And that is absolutely appropriate. It should be based on the information we have so far," he said.

But he warned extreme caution must be the guiding principle until the jury is in.

Mr Trump has said: "I started taking it because I think it's good. I've heard a lot of good stories."

Just last month, the US Food and Drug Administration warned health professionals the drug should not be used to treat COVID-19 outside hospital or research settings due to sometimes fatal side effects.

Regulators issued the alert after receiving reports of heart rhythm problems, including deaths, from poison control centres and other health providers.

The US president has dismissed reports of side-effects, saying: "All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK."

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

Additional reporting: Omar Dehen.

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