Drug used by 8 million in Turkey to treat Covid-19 proven ineffective

After being used by more than 8 million people to treat Covid-19 in Turkey, a new study has declared the drug favipiravir to be ineffective in the fight against the virus.

Müzeyyen Yüce / DUVAR 

Turkish Covid-19 Scientific Committee Member and Istanbul Faculty of Medicine's Prof. Dr. Serap Şimşek Yavuz has announced that the drug favipiravir, prescribed to an estimated 8 million people to treat Covid-19, has been deemed ineffective in the fight against the virus.

She shared the results of a new study confirming the drug’s inefficacy on social media. 

Favipiravir is a drug originally produced in Japan approved to treat the flu. After rumors of its effectiveness in fighting Covid-19, the Turkish Health Ministry began prescribing it to all people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. Patients in mandatory lockdown were advised to take the pill up to nine times a day.

To date, an estimated eight million people have been prescribed the drug since March 11, 2020 -- the day the first positive Covid-19 test was recorded in Turkey. While not all those patients used the drug, experts estimate at least a few million people in Turkey underwent the treatment regimen. 

Despite its widespread use, favipiravir is not approved anywhere in the world for the treatment of Covid-19. Evidence has long suggested that the drug is not effective, say experts, but the Turkish Health Ministry has not heeded warnings and has continued to prescribe it. People who tested positive for the coronavirus were given favipiravir by dispatch teams sent to their homes upon receipt of a positive test. 

"A mistake was made from the very beginning," Hacettepe University Faculty of Medicine Head of Department of Pediatric Infectious Diseases Prof. Dr. Mehmet Ceyhan said.

"In the process, when the effect of the drug was not known, at least they should have compared the effects of giving it to one group and not giving it to another, but unfortunately this was not done."

Now, a new study released by the Canadian pharmaceutical company Appili proves these experts' claims. The study, called PRESECO (PREventing Severe COVID-19), showed that when patients received favipiravir when they had Covid-19, they experienced no real mitigation of systems.

“It was a study whose results we expected for a long time,” said Dr. Yavuz. “Unfortunately, favipiravir was ineffective.”

Doctors are now concerned about the effects taking so much of this medication may have had on patients’ bodies. Dr. Murat Akova from Hacettepe University Department of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases has said that while the drug is certainly not fatal, taking it in such high doses could have a negative effect on the liver. 

“Of course, every drug can have some negative effects on the liver when taken in such high doses. It can also, in rare cases, cause an allergic reaction. We mostly observed that our patients experiences impaired liver function, but once the drug was stopped, functions returned to normal.”

Dr. Ceyhan added that there is no evidence in the medical literature that the drug is fatal. However, Dr. Bülent Ertuğrul of the Turkish Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (KLİMİK) has said that there need to be more tests done in Turkey to determine if there are any side effects experienced within the Turkish populace. 

“It is not possible in Turkey to say anything about how many patients used the drug or how many side effects they had,” he said. "We do not have any data on the side effects of favipiravir in Turkey.”