Document Type



Population Health (East Africa)


Chloroquine (CQ) and Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) have been proposed to be effective at treating COVID-19 patients. We, and others, have previously reported on the capacity of CQ to reduce HIV-1 replication in vitro. We tested CQ administration in post-partum mothers on influencing HIV-1 viral loads in human milk as a means of lowering mother to child transmission. A Phase I/II, randomized, placebo-controlled study to evaluate chloroquine administration to reduce HIV-1 RNA levels in human milk: the CHARGE study. Thirty HIV-1 positive pregnant Rwandese women (CQ n = 20; placebo n = 10) were enrolled in a 16-week study, with the treatment group receiving a 200 mg oral dose of CQ daily. Base-line plasma viral load (pVL) measurements and CD4 counts were determined prior to delivery, and pVL, breast milk VL (bmVL) and CQ levels measured during treatment. For women receiving treatment, CQ concentration was higher in breast milk compared to plasma (over 2.5-fold), with a positive correlation between the levels in the two compartments (P < 0.003). A link between high CQ concentrations in plasma and high CD4 counts (P < 0.001) was observed. Surprisingly, we found a significant increase in pVL after CQ treatment in over half of the mothers (n=11; P < 0.001) and with no alteration to bmVL measurements. No specific amino acid alterations in the gp120 envelope sequences could be associated with CQ administration. CQ usage is associated with a significant increase to pVL in early breastfeeding mothers from Rwanda which cautions against the use of CQ in such individuals. Our results highlight a discrepancy between CQ effects on modulating HIV-1 replication in vitro versus in vivo and indicate caution when prescribing CQ to postpartum HIV-1 untreated mothers. This discrepancy should be taken into consideration when testing CQ or HCQ treatment in COVID-19 clinical trials, especially relating to the post-partum setting.

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