A video published online on Thursday (April 23) showed a delivery of barrels labelled “chloroquine phosphate”, with French and Chinese flags.
A comment on the video claimed that the images showed “70kg” of product that had come from China, which was intended for “the army’s central pharmacy”, and posted what he said was an order document confirming a delivery on Tuesday April 21, through Roissy airport.
On Friday (April 24), the ministry of defence did not confirm the amount of the order, but said that the delivery had indeed come from China, and was “chloroquine phosphate, or salt, which would allow for the development of an injectable version [of the drug]”.
A statement said: “This is a precautionary purchase. In the context of high tension of pharmaceutical materials, the ministry decided to make a purchase as a precaution if chloroquine ever becomes approved by health authorities as a useful way to fight Covid-19.”
The drug is currently only permitted in France for use in hospitals, for severe cases. Further tests and trials are underway to establish whether it is safe or should be recommended for widespread use.
Chloroquine-based interventions - specifically, hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin - have been suggested as an effective treatment method against Covid-19 since the start of the epidemic, particularly by renowned-but-controversial Marseille-based infectious diseases specialist, Professor Didier Raoult.
Yet, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has recently said that any possible benefits of the drug had not been proven, and that “recent studies have shown serious problems with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, especially when taken in high doses, or in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin”.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also released an alert on the possible risk of heart complications linked to the treatment.
Florence Parly, minister of the armed forces, said that the army’s order "does not in any way constitute a judgement on the effectiveness of the drug", but said that the ministry had followed health advice.
She said: “We make many precautionary purchases as that is our role.”
She added that the ministry was trying to “anticipate” possible international competition for the drugs, ahead of future scientific tests, whether their results are positive or negative.
The minister said: “We do not compete with the health authorities. Under no circumstances did we buy this to create a drug independently.”
The ministry did not respond to questions about its possible future medical purchases, saying it could not “reveal its order book”.
There are currently 1,500 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the French army, “including around 15 in intensive care”, said the central director of the army health service, Service de Santé des Armées (SSA), including the 1,000 who tested positive aboard the aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle.
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