Fact check: No link between India's falling COVID-19 cases and hydroxychloroquine – USA TODAY

With 26 million confirmed cases and more than 291,000 deaths due to COVID-19, India has been hit hard by the pandemic. The country’s health care system is overwhelmed, its crematoriums are running at full capacity, and just 3% of citizens are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
An American conservative website says two drugs may be a solution to the crisis.
“Coronavirus cases are plummeting in India thanks to new rules that promote ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine to its massive population,” wrote the Gateway Pundit in a May 17 article.
As evidence, the Gateway Pundit — which has previously published false claims about face masks and election fraud, among other things — linked to a post from the COVID Blog, which says it endeavors to report the “truth about COVID vaccines and the severe adverse effects thereof.” The website cited guidance from India’s Health and Family Welfare Ministry for people with mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.
Fact check: India’s COVID-19 surge not connected to vaccinations
That guidance mentions both hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, but that doesn’t mean the drugs are responsible for the decline in India’s COVID-19 cases. 
“The (Gateway Pundit) article shows no data, much less any that would demonstrate an effect of any kind of prophylaxis on reducing COVID incidence in India,” Dr. David Peters, chair of the international health department at Johns Hopkins University, said in an email to USA TODAY.
Hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin are not proven to effectively treat COVID-19, as other independent fact-checking organizations have noted. Coronavirus cases are falling in India’s urban population centers, where strict lockdown measures were put in place.
USA TODAY reached out to the Gateway Pundit for comment.
New daily coronavirus cases in India have fallen since their peak in early May. But there is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin have played a role in that trend.
“Hydroxychloroquine has no efficacy whatsoever for COVID and there are numerous trials showing no benefit. Ivermectin is unproven and its indication is for treatment, not for prevention, of disease,” Dr. Amita Gupta, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Clinical Global Health Education, said in an email. “So there is no basis for this being the reason for the decrease in cases.”
New COVID-19 infections seem to be slowing down in urban population centers like New Delhi and Mumbai, the New York Times and other media outlets have reported. The states in which both cities are located have implemented strict lockdown measures since April. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases continue to spread in India’s countryside, where testing is limited and health care providers have fewer resources.
The primary reason for the decline in COVID-19 cases is unclear, but experts say it may have to do with adherence to guidelines like social distancing and mask-wearing.
Joseph Lewnard, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of California-Berkeley, said other factors likely include “the declining proportion of Indians who are susceptible to infection owing to the high attack rates observed throughout much of the country, as well as expanded vaccination efforts.”
India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare published updated guidance April 28 that says patients with mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 infections should consider taking ivermectin once a day for three to five days. Caregivers and “all close contacts” of patients eligible for home isolation “should take hydroxychloroquine prophylaxis as per protocol and as prescribed by the treating medical officer,” the document says.
That guidance encourages the use of treatments that run counter to the scientific consensus about COVID-19, as Quartz and other outlets have reported.
Hydroxychloroquine is a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, while ivermectin is used to treat parasitic worms. Neither are proven treatments for COVID-19.
In March 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization to use hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 in hospitalized patients. However, the agency revoked that authorization two months later after clinical trial results showed the drug offered no benefit for coronavirus patients.
An FDA review of safety issues associated with the drug included reports of heart rhythm problems, kidney injuries and liver problems. The World Health Organization reached similar conclusions based on six clinical trials.
“Using hydroxychloroquine for prevention had little or no effect on preventing illness, hospitalization or death from COVID-19,” the international agency says on its website. “Taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19 may increase the risk of diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, drowsiness and headache.”
Fact check: Hydroxychloroquine does not work better abroad
Ivermectin is also not a proven COVID-19 treatment.
The FDA warns that, while some research is in the works, the drug should not be used to treat the virus. The World Health Organization has issued similar guidance.
“The current evidence on the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 patients is inconclusive,” the agency said in a March 31 statement. “Until more data is available, WHO recommends that the drug only be used within clinical trials.”
USA TODAY reached out to India’s Health and Family Welfare Ministry for comment.
The claim that COVID-19 cases in India have declined due to the use of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin is FALSE, based on our research. Neither drug is a proven treatment for COVID-19. New COVID-19 cases are falling in population centers where strict lockdown measures were put in place.
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