FRANCE INTER
France Inter is a major French public radio channel and part of Radio France. It is a "generalist" station, aiming to provide a wide national audience with a full service of news and spoken-word programming, both serious and entertaining, liberally punctuated with an eclectic mix of music.
Coronavirus
Bertrand Hauger

Who Is Didier Raoult, France's Hydroxychloroquine Guru?

A surprising visit Thursday from French President Emmanuel Macron multiplies the questions around controversial microbiologist advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.

PARIS — The name on everybody's masked lips for the past month in France is getting renewed international attention: Professor Didier Raoult received a special guest yesterday at his medical offices in Marseille, as French President Emmanuel Macron visited the controversial microbiologist advocating the use of hydroxychloroquine, a well-known anti-malaria drug, to treat COVID-19.

No press was allowed to attend the surprise presidential visit, and no comment was made afterwards, but Macron's move was quickly criticized as "fueling the hype" surrounding Raoult. It has also prompted comparisons with U.S. President Donald Trump, who has touted hydroxychloroquine as a "game-changer" cure, despite very mixed opinions in the medical community. So who exactly is the colorful infectious disease specialist, and why should we care about him making the rounds? Here are five things to know about Raoult:

• Doctor strange: With his long white hair, goatee, biker-like skull rings, Didier Raoult looks more like General Custer than your typical epidemiologist, daily Ouest France writes. Born in Senegal, the 68-year-old has specialized in the study of obscure diseases throughout a career mired in controversy. The vast number of scientific publications (3,000+) he has co-authored, the investigative website Mediapart points out, has raised eyebrows from his peers, along with his forceful and very public defense of his treatments. Raoult's anti-establishment attitude is no doubt partly responsible for his strong following on Twitter, Facebook, and the 70,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel that boasts 7 million views total — leading public radio station France Inter to call him a bonafide "star du web."

• "Molécule miracle": Despite scant hard evidence that the drug is effective, more than 469,000 people have already signed a petition to make it more widely available. Still, for many in France, the prospect of prescribing a "miracle drug" without due validation protocol from health authorities brings back memories of the Mediator pharmaceutical scandal, after a pill prescribed to overweight diabetics is believed to have killed more than 2,000 people between 1970s-2000s.

• Trial questions: A key criticism leveled at Raoult is that the hydroxychloroquine treatment for coronavirus has not been properly tested. Science magazine writes that "the popular faith" in hydroxychloroquine is only matched by the weakness of the data. Raoult's own "conclusive" studies have either been conducted with very few patients or without control groups, while several other studies have highlighted significant side effects to the use of the antimalarial drug — including heart dysfunctions. Raoult, Science points out, has responded to those criticisms by complaining about the "dictatorship of the methodologists."

• Weirder science: The doctor is also a self-declared climate change skeptic who once told Le Point magazine that "the Earth has generally stopped warming since 1998."

• Conspiracy theories: The hopes raised by Raoult's constant advertising of his treatment have in turn fueled suspicions concerning the pharmaceutical industry, reports Le Monde. "If such a cure exists, why then is it not extended to the whole country — nay, the whole world?"

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Geopolitics
Worldcrunch

Coronavirus — Global Brief: What Happens In Wuhan Matters In Wichita

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: WHAT HAPPENS IN WUHAN MATTERS IN WICHITA

And 76 days later…

It was Jan. 23, 2020 when the central Chinese city of Wuhan was cut off from the rest of the world, as government authorities took action to severely restrict people's movements at the epicenter of what was then just the beginning of the burgeoning coronavirus outbreak. On Wednesday, the two-and-a-half-month ban on travel was lifted, ending the world's longest mass quarantine in memory.

That, of course, leaves much time for the rest of the world to count the days shut inside our own homes and cities. But even as each of us monitors our respective local situation, we will all be watching Wuhan closely to see what happens after its landmark "liberation" from coronavirus lockdown.

The international criticism for what were considered draconian measures in Wuhan are no doubt seen in a new light as other countries are now enforcing lockdowns of their own. And now, we will see another real-world experiment as restrictions are eased, providing precious data: to epidemiologists on the resurgence of cases, to economists on how quickly businesses can bounce back, and to all of us on how much it will take to get back to normal after weeks or months in isolation.

There is certainly a lot to learn from the Wuhan example, even if containment measures in different countries have varied widely. In China, the virus has been contained by forcing anyone with a fever and people who had been in close contact with someone believed to be infected into "centralized quarantine." This means that thousands of people were taken from their homes and placed in converted hotels, dorms and classrooms in order to stop transmission, even among family members at home. This has not been the case in most Western countries, where authorities have sought to keep people out of hospitals unless their cases are severe and advised people with symptoms to self-isolate at home.

All this to say that what happens in Wuhan won't necessarily determine what will happen in the rest of the world. If the resurgence of cases depends on how much immunity is already in the population, as some epidemiologists claim, China's efficient containment might eventually prove to be a weak spot. So, even as we count the days, there will be plenty of other data to calculate as well.

Michaela Kozminova

THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

  • Wuhan reopens: Coronavirus lockdown ends after 76 days in the central Chinese city where it was believed to have begun.

  • Toll: Deaths pass 10,000 in France, as the U.S. records highest death toll in a single day with more than 1,800 fatalities, 731 in New York state alone.

  • Europe blocked: Talks of European Union recovery fund to help southern countries, especially Italy and Spain, have stalled after 16 hours, leading the head of the European Research Council to resign, "extremely disappointed by the European response".

  • Polish vote: parliament approves legislation to allow presidential elections in May to be held as a postal ballot.

  • Pyongyang tests: In North Korea, 709 people have been tested and 509 are in quarantine, according to a WHO representative, but the country still reports no cases.

  • Where's El Señor Presidente? Even as Nicaragua continues to promote gatherings and mass events, while President Daniel Ortega has been absent for almost a month.

  • RIP Prine: U.S. raspy-voiced country icon John Prine dies from coronavirus complications in Nashville at age 73.

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