WINDSOR TERRACE — As COVID-19 continues to strike hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S., divisions within the medical community over how to treat the virus have risen to the surface.
The anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine is at the center of one recent controversy.
A video featuring medical professionals from a group called America’s Frontline Doctors, in which they tout the benefits of hydroxychloroquine, was removed from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube among other sites on the night of July 27.
Twitter representatives charged that the video contains misinformation.
“Tweets with the video are in violation of our COVID-19 misinformation policy,” according to Twitter spokeswoman Liz Kelley.
“We removed it for sharing false information about cures and treatments for COVID-19,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone tweeted.
President Donald Trump, who says he has taken hydroxychloroquine as a preventative measure against COVID-19 and has touted the drug several times, shared the video with his 84 million Twitter followers before it was removed.
Despite the social media pushback, members of America’s Frontline Doctors are not backing down.
The group held a conference, called the White Coat Summit, in Washington D.C. on July 27-28 to discuss treatments for COVID-19, including the use of hydroxychloroquine, and to address what they call the “massive disinformation campaign” regarding the pandemic and “to empower Americans to stop living in fear.”
The video taken down from social media sites is of a press conference that shows several medical professionals talking about the anti-malaria drug as an effective treatment for coronavirus. The doctors openly question why it isn’t more widely used for patients.
Dr. Stella Immanuel, a physician, went so far as to describe hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19 when used in concert with two other drugs – zinc and Zithromax.
“America, there is a cure for COVID,” Immanuel says on the video.
That view flies in the face of the opinions of other medical experts. There is no known cure for COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.
“I’ve seen it work. So far, I’ve not lost one patient,” Immanuel insisted, going as far as to call it “unethical” for hydroxychloroquine not to be used by doctors.
Immanuel has made controversial medical claims in the past. Certain medical conditions like infertility and impotence, she says, are the result of people having sex in their dreams with witches and demons. Her own Facebook biography describes her as a “prophet of God to the nations” and says she is a “Physician, Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Deliverance Minister, God’s battle-ax, and weapon of war.”
Hydroxychloroquine is “an amazing drug,” said Dr. Richard Urso.
Urso said there is a great deal of research showing hydroxychloroquine to be effective.
“The science is all right here,” he says in the video.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is urging caution when it comes to hydroxychloroquine.
FDA experts have said the anti-malaria drug comes with serious health risks for COVID-19 patients. In June, the FDA revoked an emergency approval it had awarded that allowed doctors to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Robert Tiballi, an infectious disease specialist in Elgin, Illinois, favors the use of hydroxychloroquine. But he said the argument in favor of it is more nuanced than the media is presenting.
Tiballi, who has often appeared in “Ask the Doctor” segments on Currents News on NET-TV, said numerous studies have shown that hydroxychloroquine is highly effective in treating COVID-19 – but only if used as a course of treatment very early on in the progression of the virus.
“If it is prescribed within the first two days of diagnosis, it is very effective,” he told The Tablet. “Studies have shown that there was a drastic difference in the death rates in patients who took it early versus the death rates of patients who took it later on. The difference was obvious.”
Hydroxychloroquine can also be useful as a way to help prevent COVID-19, according to Tiballi.
“If you gave it to every adult in America, it is possible you could see COVID disappear,” he said.
Tiballi also questioned why hydroxychloroquine has fallen out of favor in many medical circles: “The world Health Organization, up until last year, called it one of the best drugs out there.”
He criticized sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube for taking down the video featuring America’s Front Line Doctors. When asked if he believed the doctors were being censored, Tiballi said, “There’s no question they are.”
The America’s Frontline Doctors press conference video has drawn controversy for other reasons. In it, Immanuel speaks out against social distancing and wearing face masks as the sole factors in slowing down the spread of COVID-19.
“You don’t need a mask,” she said. “We don’t need to be locked down” when there are effective treatments, she said.
Despite the video being removed, it was still popping up on social media sites, largely because users shared it and re-uploaded it.
Meanwhile, other controversies have come to the forefront of the medical community.
Dr. Sapan Desai, a vascular surgeon who supplied information for two published medical studies that found that hydroxychloroquine was linked to increased deaths in COVID-19 patients, was later found to have cut corners and misrepresented data in his research, the New York Times reported.
The two studies, published in May, have since been retracted, according to the Times.