Over the past few days, dexamethasone has been touted as a breakthrough drug in terms of treating critically ill COVID-19 patients.
A clinical trial in the UK showed the corticosteroid medication was highly effective, reducing the number of deaths by one-third for COVID-19 patients on ventilators, and cutting mortality by around 20% in patients requiring oxygen.
Further good news – it is produced and readily available in South Africa, and already in use by a small number of doctors.
Reporting below via EWN:
Emeritus professor of critical care at Wits University, Guy Richards, is part of a group of specialists who have formed the “Gauteng ICU Corona Group”.
He said that they’d been using dexamethasone or similar anti-inflammatory agents to treat patients in the same way that it was administered in the UK trials.
“It is nice to see the randomised control trial showing benefits and confirming what we have been doing is the right approach. There are many areas in South Africa, however, where corticosteroids have not been used up until now.”
Richards stresses that the drug is only effective on those patients requiring ventilator support in hospital, and those who need non-invasive ventilation, and does not work in an outpatient setting.
Production in South Africa comes via pharmaceutical giant Aspen, which makes dexamethasone injections with a price range between R149 and R176 locally.
According to IOL, the company is now expecting a spike in demand:
…its chief executive officer Stephen Saad has given assurance for adequate supplies on the domestic front.
“It all depends on where and when we get the surges. We should be fine for South Africa, as we make this in South Africa,” Mr Saad said.
Fears that there could be a shortage of the drug in South Africa comes following insufficient supplies in 2006 after patent holder Merck & Company stopped production in what was a huge medical inconvenience for cancer patients who rely on the drug.
But Aspen is now producing dexamethasone while companies like Adcock Ingram and Sanofi are registered to distribute the drug in South Africa.
With many of our hospitals under siege, and ICU units already full, the use of dexamethasone could become critical in the weeks and months to come.
That being said, South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee has stated that clinicians should follow strict guidelines when treating seriously ill patients with dexamethasone.
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