After the debate led to a public outcry, France has decided to allow a treatment for people hospitalized after having contracted coronavirus.
The treatment—hydroxychloroquine combined with azythromycine—has been made public by a French physician, Pr. Didier Raoult from Marseilles who also happens to be the international authority on infectious diseases. The results seem so spectacular and the costs so low—this is an old anti-malaria drug whose antiviral qualities, side-effects, and contraindications are all well known—that Donald Trump (and his medical advisors) caught wind of it and publicly suggested implementing it.
The scandal resides in the political and media barrage Pr. Raoult and his team were subjected to following the public announcement of their preliminary results. Beyond the French national media’s usual disdain for everything outside of Paris, this discovery caught the authorities off guard. Unable to anticipate and prepare for the pandemic (no masks, no beds, no tests), they initially tried to downplay the crisis before going into panic mode and organizing presidential broadcasts demanding social distancing and confinement.
The disturbing part is that certain professional doctors, well aware of Pr. Raoult’s impeccable reputation and international renown, started to vehemently criticize his protocol. Ordinary citizens are required to be on high alert, but the government should go about its usual slow procedures. Pr. Raoult, disagreeing with this approach, recently resigned from the ad hoc Presidential Council in order to focus on taking care of patients in need, which is his prerogative as a doctor. As a consequence, while the rest of France waits for public directives, citizens of Marseilles are queuing up at his hospital in order to be treated.
A large-scale clinical trial has just been launched at the European level. Aside from the unnecessary extra layer of bureaucracy that this represents, Pr. Raoult’s treatment has at least been included in the testing, the results of which will be available in several weeks. If not for the internet and the fact that people at home were able to monitor and challenge initial media reactions to Pr. Raoult’s discovery, France might have been facing another political health scandal akin to the contaminated blood scandal it faced in the 1990s.