This illustration picture taken on August 22, 2019 shows a mosquito seen through a microscope in the entomology laboratory at the National Center for research and training on malaria (CNRFP), in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. - The primary cause of consultation, malaria is a real public health problem in Burkina Faso, that affects mostly young children, and has been reduced by prevention campaigns carried out by the National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) and partly funded by the Global Fund. Introduced in Burkina Faso in 2014, initially in seven districts in high-prevalence areas, seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) was expanded in subsequent years to cover almost all of the country's 70 districts. An evaluation of the SMC program in Burkina Faso reveals that the number of malaria infections in children under five had been halved in the Kaya health district (north) over a four-year period. (Photo by Olympia DE MAISMONT / AFP)

Posts falsely claim Chinese official touted antibiotic oxytetracycline as Covid-19 treatment

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Facebook, Twitter and Weibo posts purport to show a Chinese official promoting antimalarial drug chloroquine phosphate, which they claim is also known as oxytetracycline, as a Covid-19 treatment at a press conference in 2021. The claim is misleading: the official made the comments in February 2020; While she touted chloroquine phosphate as a Covid treatment, she did not mention oxytetracycline, which is a different drug. 

The video was shared here in a Facebook post on March 10, 2021. 

“CCTV just released, victory in sight! No one would have thought that the antidote for coronavirus is chloroquine phosphate, an old brand medicine that has been produced for 70 years! We also call it oxytetracycline before,” reads the Chinese-language caption.

The video shows a broadcast of a woman speaking at a press conference. The logo of Chinese state-run television broadcaster CCTV is visible in the top-left corner, while the news ticker reads, “Press conference by Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council”. 

The woman speaking in the video is Sun Yanrong, deputy head of the China National Center for Biotechnology Development under the Ministry of Science and Technology, according to the on-screen text and the official website of the State Council of China.

During the video, Sun announces that chloroquine phosphate, a malaria medicine that has been used for “more than 70 years”, is an effective Covid-19 treatment.

“Based on the results of clinical studies carried out by pre-clinical institutions, it’s clear that chloroquine phosphate is effective in treating Covid-19,” she said.

Screenshot taken on April 7, of the misleading Facebook post

The video was shared alongside similar claims in 2021 here and here on Facebook, and here and here on Weibo.

The claim, however, is misleading. 

A keyword search on Chinese search engine Baidu found the same footage published by CCTV’s official channel on Chinese video app Haokan Video, dated February 17, 2021.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the Facebook video (L) and the video published by CCTV on Haokan video (R):

Screenshot comparison of the Facebook video (L) and the video published by CCTV on Haokan video (R)

The CCTV video is headlined in Chinese which translates as: “Chloroquine phosphate is effective on Covid-19”.

Trials involving more than 100 patients suggested chloroquine phosphate was an effective treatment for Covid-19, Sun said in the press conference.

Chloroquine phosphate is not a recommended Covid-19 treatment. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revoked an emergency authorisation to treat certain coronavirus patients with the drug in June 2020 after concerns over its safety and effectiveness.

In March 2021, US authorities charged a Thai national with fraudulently selling chloroquine phosphate as a treatment for Covid-19.

Different drugs

Dr Aubrey Cunnington, Head of the Section and Reader in Paediatric Infectious Disease from Imperial College London, told AFP by email on March 29, 2021, that chloroquine phosphate is different from oxytetracycline.

“I can confirm this is nonsense. Chloroquine and oxytetracycline have completely different chemical composition and structures,” he wrote.

“Chloroquine phosphate is just a form of chloroquine. The important difference is in the chloroquine and oxytetracycline molecules and not whether they are associated with phosphate,” Cunnington added.

Chloroquine phosphate and oxytetracycline, according to The United States National Library of Medicine, the world's largest medical library, are indeed different in terms of chemical composition and structures.

Health experts point out that antibiotics are not effective in preventing Covid-19, which is caused by a virus. Some Covid-19 patients develop bacterial infections, which can be treated by antibiotics.