PARTLY FALSE: U.S. FDA 'approves' hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment

(UPDATED)

Claim: US President Donald Trump said in a White House briefing on Friday, March 20, that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which are often used to treat malaria, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of COVID-19.

He said: "[Chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine] is known as a malaria drug and it's been around for a long time and it's very powerful. But the nice part is that it's been around for a long time so we know that if it – if things don't go as planned it's not going to kill anybody. When you go with a brand new drug, you don't know that that's gonna happen. You have to see and you have to go long tests, but this has been used in different forms, very powerful drug in different forms.

"And it's shown very encouraging – very, very encouraging early results. And we're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately. And that's where the FDA has been so great. They – they've gone through the approval process; it's been approved. And they did it – they took it down from many, many months to immediate. So we're going to be able to make that drug available by prescription or states."

"Normally the FDA would take a long time to approve something like that, and it's – it was approved very, very quickly and it's now approved, by prescription."

Trump's briefing was uploaded on the YouTube channel D PLUS PRODUCTION on March 19 with the title "President Trump Announces FDA Approval of Hydroxychloroquine for Treatment of Coronavirus." It has been viewed 1,274,439 times as of posting. D PLUS PRODUCTION has 571,000 subscribers.

The clip of Trump's briefing was also shared on Facebook by the page "The Political Rebirth" on March 20. It has 78,000 views as of posting.

The Facebook page "Doctor of Pharmacy(PHARM.D)" also claimed on March 19 that Sanofi's Plaquenil, which is hydroxychloroquine, is "a cheap and available drug in the market for COVID-19" but did not mention Trump. Their post has received 323 reactions, 86 comments, and 298 shares as of posting.

Rating: PARTLY FALSE

The facts: Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were given emergency use authorization by the FDA for COVID-19 on Sunday, March 29. However, they have not been considered an official cure for COVID-19 as of March 30.

The two drugs are FDA-approved for treating malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

On March 19, the FDA released a statement saying they are investigating the efficacy of chloroquine as treatment for COVID-19. In the statement, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said the department is taking steps to ensure that the drug is available for patients who use it to treat these diseases.

"While there are no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent COVID-19, there are several FDA-approved treatments that may help ease the symptoms from a supportive care perspective," the FDA said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also says on their website, "There are no US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs specifically for the treatment of patients with COVID-19."

Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are also being studied by scientists in France and China. Some hospitals in France have also used this drug to treat COVID-19 patients unless they refuse it or have contraindications. (READ: What you need to know: Coronavirus cures, vaccines being tested)

The drug can also cause a number of side effects. The US National Library of Medicine says that chloroquine can cause muscle weakness and prolonged use of the drug can cause vision problems.

Following Trump's false claim about the drug, a man in the US reportedly died after ingesting a fish tank additive that had chloroquine phosphate as an active ingredient. The US CDC discouraged the public from misusing non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate, saying, "Chloroquine phosphate has a narrow therapeutic index – it can be toxic at levels not much higher than those used for treatment – which raises the risk of inadvertent overdose."

Three people from Nigeria also suffered from chloroquine overdose. – Vernise L Tantuco/Rappler.com

Editor's note: This article previously said that a man in the US died due to a chloroquine overdose. This has been clarified that he died after ingesting a fish tank additive that had chloroquine phosphate as an active ingredient.