The meeting in Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur), where Professor Raoult is based, was seen as a surprise as it had not been previously announced to the press.
Professor Raoult is a microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist, and head of the infectious diseases research unit l’Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire (IHU) Méditerranée Infection.
His work is part of the European Discovery Project, the clinical trials which are taking place in different laboratories in France and in Europe. See here.
The visit of Macron was part of wide consultations of experts, as the President prepares for his Monday's speech which is expected to cover a lockdown exit strategy and treatments for the virus.
He was one of the pioneers in trialling the use of the anti-malarial drug chloroquine to help attenuate symptoms of Covid-19 in seriously ill patients.
The use of the drug has been controversial and highly debated in medical circles. Yet, it is now permitted as a Covid-19 treatment in France for very severe cases.
The objective of President Macron’s meeting and visit (see a video by news source BMFTV below) was to “get an update on the question of treatments, the day after a conversation with the director general of the WHO (World Health Organisation),” said a statement from the President’s entourage in newspaper Le Monde.
Larger hydroxychloroquine study
Professor Raoult reportedly presented the results of a new, larger study on 1,061 patients, using hydroxychloroquine (a derivative of chloroquine) and the antibiotic azithromycin, to help treat Covid-19.
The results showed that 973 patients recovered within 10 days (a 91.7% success rate).
A summary of the new study was published on the IHU website, in English, here.
It said: “Of the 3165 positive patients placed in the care of our institute, 1,061...patients met our inclusion criteria... Virological cure was obtained in 973 patients within 10 days (91.7%).”
It concluded: “The HCQ-AZ (hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin) combination, when started immediately after diagnosis, is a safe and efficient treatment for Covid-19, with a mortality rate of 0.5% in older patients.
"It stops symptoms worsening and clears virus persistence and contagiosity in most cases.”
“President will not settle the debate”
Yet, the statement from the Presidential entourage acknowledged the controversy over Professor Raoult’s work, and said that his visit did not equate to endorsement.
It continued: “It is not for the President to settle this debate, it must be settled scientifically.
“One visit does not legitimise a scientific protocol, it [simply] acts as a marker of the interest of the head of State into clinical trials, whether they appear promising or not.”
The Presidential team nonetheless said that “Professor Raoult is a known and recognised scientist”, and said the IHU Marseille is “an independent centre of excellence in the fight against Covid-19”.
Professor Raoult first suggested that chloroquine could help reduce the viral load in patients within a few days, in a video published at the end of February, after a small, initial clinical trial appeared to produce successful results.
He said that of 24 patients treated at the IHU, 75% presented a negative viral load after just six days.
The initial study has become controversial, with some suggesting that it was too small to be conclusive, and others warning over the potential side-effects of the use of chloroquine for this purpose.
The Marseille meeting comes after President Macron visited the Kremlin-Bicêtre hospital (Val-de-Marne, Île-de-France) on the same day, to meet with hospital researchers working to beat Covid-19.
News source LCI reported that the President is set to take the results of his visits to the national scientific council, le Conseil Scientifique, and consult with minister for health Olivier Véran, ahead of his address to the nation on the evening of Monday April 13.
The President is also scheduled to continue consultations “with a large number of public and private figures, French, European and international” ahead of the address, said the Élysée Palace.
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