Moroccan Scientist: Morocco’s Chloroquine Success Reveals European Failures

Rabat – Jaouad Zemmouri, a Moroccan scientist and president of the Starklab industrial innovation company in France, believes Morocco’s use of chloroquine and its derivatives proved life-saving for the country’s COVID-19 patients.

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on June 17 that the hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) “arm of the Solidarity Trial to find an effective COVID-19 treatment was being stopped” because the medication does not “result in the reduction of mortality of hospitalized COVID-19 patients when compared with standard of care.” 

The decision, however, does not “apply to the use or evaluation of hydroxychloroquine in pre or post-exposure prophylaxis in patients exposed to COVID-19.” In other words, HCQ may be appropriate as a preventive treatment or in the first stage of infection. 

The move aligns with the position of French scientist Didier Raoult, who Zemmouri believes made it abundantly clear that the anti-malarial medication is most effective in treating COVID-19 when used immediately after contamination. 

Zemmouri, who is also a professor at the University of Lille in France, emphasized that Western clinical studies targeted the effectiveness of HCQ in the hospitalization phase. 

“Professor Raoult has been repeating that hydroxychloroquine is useless for hospitalized patients, but [efficient] in the first days of [infection],” Zemmouri said.

While WHO only recently came to this conclusion, countries like Morocco have been heeding the instructions of Raoult since introducing chloroquine into their COVID-19 treatment options. 

Zemmouri believes the drug is a driving force behind Morocco’s 82.5% recovery rate and a “low fatality rate” of 2.1%, and highlighted that Europe’s failure to properly administer the treatment cost thousands of lives. 

The chloroquine controversy

In March, Raoult announced results from clinical trials showing a 100% COVID-19 cure rate thanks to HCQ, a chloroquine derivative: “Despite its small sample size our survey shows that hydroxychloroquine treatment is significantly associated with viral load reduction/disappearance in COVID-19 patients and its effect is reinforced by azithromycin.” 

Raoult also challenged the study published on May 22 in the scientific journal “The Lancet.” The study linked the use of chloroquine to a greater risk of death in COVID-19 patients, a conclusion the French expert called “delusional fantasy.”

Raoult’s findings generated debate and controversy around the world, but he doubled down on the study, saying, “I’m not going to change my mind because there is a messy study done with Big data that tells something else, regardless of the newspaper in which it goes.”

While countries like the UK describe HCQ as “ useless ” against COVID-19, world leaders such as US President Donald Trump — who called the drug a “game-changer” and began taking it daily as a preventive treatment — are some of the drug’s biggest advocates.

Morocco’s ‘life-saving’ relationship with chloroquine 

As the world was embroiled in a debate about the side effects of using chloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 patients, Morocco asserted itself as in favor of the drug, a position Zemmouri believes saved thousands of lives in the North African country.

Morocco uses HCQ in accordance with the recommendations of the French expert, but the country has stressed its use of the drug and its derivatives is a “sovereign decision” based on consultations with the Technical and Scientific Commission of the National Program for the Prevention and Control of Influenza and Severe Acute Respiratory Infections.

Minister of Health Khalid Ait Taleb declared on May 27 that the drug helped prevent mass deaths in Morocco. He said that while opinions on the matter may differ, “chloroquine is involved in viral inactivation [of the virus],” and announced Morocco will continue to administer it to COVID-19 patients regardless of the global controversy.

Now that WHO has affirmed hydroxychloroquine could be effective soon after contamination or as a preventive treatment, Moroccan experts believe chloroquine and its derivatives will continue to be used in COVID-19 treatment around the world. The director of University Hospital Center Ibn Rochd, Moulay Hicham Afif, said the use of the anti-malarial drug will expand in several countries such as China, the US, Tunisia, and France.

Zemmouri believes approximately 78% of Europe’s coronavirus-related deaths “could have been avoided” if European countries had applied the “same chloroquine strategy as Morocco.” 

Comparing Morocco’s clinical COVID-19 response to that of Europe, the Moroccan scientist said Morocco has 10,079 confirmed cases and 214 deaths against more than 2.5 million infections and 174,438 deaths in Europe.

Zemmouri said the difference in numbers left him “perplexed.”

“It would not be incomprehensible that European officials would not consult their Moroccan counterparts to learn,” he said. If Europe repeats the same mistake, he continued, “we can no longer say that it is [a surprise] … it would become criminal.”

Zemmouri acknowledged that the epidemiological situation in Morocco is improving, but the country is “far from being clear of the pandemic.” However, he is hopeful Morocco will be able to effectively manage “possible new waves of the virus.”

Starklab’s mobilization against COVID-19

Zemmouri’s Starklab is among the scientific hubs that have mobilized their efforts in service of the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The laboratory that specializes in heat exchangers is among the projects that France’s Agence Innovation Defense (AID) selected as part of the French campaign to contain the virus.

Starklab’s anti-virus project is a stem that makes it “possible to neutralize viral practicals without adding chemical elements to the atmosphere.” 

Zemmouri explained to French magazine Industrie & Technologies that the solution is based on Starklab’s heat exchange technology, called Terrao, which was initially developed to “control the atmosphere of industrial environments” and prevent fatal overheating.

“With Terrao, our initial goal was to provide a smoke treatment system that combines the functionality of an industrial scrubber with a high-performance heat exchanger,” he said. Terrao’s compact design can quickly “process large volumes of gas or smoke” and relies on “the mixing of gas in the liquid.”

“The gases are sucked in by the device and bubbled through the liquid. This action reinforces the interaction between the two elements,” the same magazine quoted Zemmouri as saying.

Speaking of the two features, the expert said the heat exchange is optimal while the gases and fumes are “washed away from impurities.”

Starklab’s Terrao-inspired COVID-19 project is one of 40 projects that other French institutions proposed to AID, which issued a tender to promote innovation to combat COVID-19.

Starklab’s project “provides a solution for the treatment and disinfection of air in confined spaces, which are increasingly suspected of being the cause of the appearance of [COVID-19] clusters.”