Donald Trump defends disproved malarial drug – again

President Donald Trump has issued a strong defence of the disproved use of hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment, hours after social media companies deleted videos he shared promoting its use which they saw as potentially harmful.

The president, in a marked shift from a more measured approach taken toward the virus in recent days, took to Twitter to promote the anti-malarial drug as a treatment for Covid-19, and to amplify criticism of Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert.

In a White House briefing, Mr Trump defended his decision to promote a viral video of a group of doctors promoting the use of the drug on Monday, even though his own administration withdrew emergency authorisation for its use against the coronavirus.

"I think they're very respected doctors," Mr Trump said, adding they believed in the drug.

"There was a woman who was spectacular in her statements about it."

The doctors, members of a group called America's Frontline Doctors, took part in an event organised by Tea Party Patriots Action, a dark money group that has helped fund a pro-Trump political action committee.

Scientific studies have shown hydroxychloroquine can do more harm than good when used to treat symptoms of Covid-19.

Mr Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., and others shared video of the event on Facebook and Twitter, prompting both companies to step in and remove the content as part of an aggressive push to keep the sites free of potentially harmful information about the virus.

However, the deletions came after more than 17 million people had already seen one version of the video circulating on the web.

The decision to remove the videos sparked conservative claims of "censorship," with Simone Gold, one of the doctors, tweeting that "there are always opposing views in medicine".

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

"Treatment options for Covid-19 should be debated, and spoken about among our colleagues in the medical field," she wrote. "They should never, however, be censored and silenced."

Others stressed the differences between medical opinion and peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Many high-quality studies have found no evidence that hydroxychloroquine, when used with or without the antibiotic azithromycin – as touted many times by Mr Trump – helps treat coronavirus infection or prevent serious disease from it.

They include studies commissioned by the US National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organisation and universities in the US and abroad.

Because of the lack of benefit and the risks of serious side effects such as heart rhythm problems, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently revoked its brief authorisation of emergency use of the drug for Covid-19. NIH treatment guidelines also specifically recommend against hydroxychloroquine's use, except in formal studies.

Still, at Tuesday's White House briefing, Mr Trump said of the drug: "Many doctors think it's extremely good and some people don't. Some people I think it's become very political. I happen to believe in it. I would take it. I ... took it for a 14 day period. And I'm here. Right?"

In addition to sharing the video, Mr Trump retweeted several tweets attacking the credibility of Dr Fauci, a leading member of the White House coronavirus task force.

Fact Check Week
Fact Check Week

Later, Mr Trump appeared to back away from his criticism of Dr Fauci, saying, "I get along with him very well" and even appearing envious of his widespread approval rating.

"He's got a very good approval rating, and I like that," Mr Trump said.

He said Dr Fauci and White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr Deborah Birx worked for him, "And yet they're highly thought of but nobody likes me".

Dr Fauci has become an off-and-on target of Mr Trump and some of his White House aides and outside allies, who disagreed with the doctor's early recommendation to shut down the economy as a way to slow the virus, which is surging again in parts of the country.

Mr Trump, in recent interviews, has described Dr Fauci as "a bit of an alarmist" and accused him of making "mistakes" in his coronavirus guidance.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden

Dr Fauci on Tuesday said he would deal with the attacks by keeping his head down and doing his job. He also backed the conclusions of the FDA and others about hydroxychloroquine and Covid-19.

Asked if he can do his job while Mr Trump publicly questioned his credibility, Dr Fauci said the stakes were too high not to stay involved.

"We're in the middle of a crisis with regard to an epidemic, a pandemic. This is what I do," Dr Fauci said on ABC's Good Morning America. "This is what I've been trained for my entire professional life and I'll continue to do it."

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube began scrubbing their sites of the video of the doctors on Monday. Conservative news outlets, groups and internet personalities shared it.

More than four million people in the US have been infected by the coronavirus and the death toll is nearing 150,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.