Doctors prepare to prescribe Covid-19 ‘miracle’ drug to save SA ...

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Doctors prepare to prescribe Covid-19 ‘miracle’ drug to save SA lives

Government is seeking information on available supplies for SA and the rest of the continent

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Dexamethasone is the first treatment to show life-saving promise months into the Covid-19 pandemic.
DRUG OF DREAMS? Dexamethasone is the first treatment to show life-saving promise months into the Covid-19 pandemic.
Image: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Clinicians in the Western Cape are developing guidelines for the introduction of dexamethasone treatment. 

The steroid drug, manufactured in SA and Germany for the global market, has become a household name in the past two days after a trial at the UK’s Oxford University showed its potential as the “miracle” treatment the world has been looking for to save the lives of Covid-19 patients. 

More than 11,500 patients were enrolled in the study in 175 British hospitals and it was discovered that dexamethasone reduced deaths by a third in ventilated patients and a fifth in those receiving oxygen only. 

“Though the results of the recovery trial in the UK must still be formally published, the researchers released the findings of the study because of its importance,” Western Cape head of health Dr Keith Cloete told a news conference on Thursday.

The province has seen more than 1,200 deaths from Covid-19, but as numbers climb elsewhere, the Ministerial Advisory Committee has made recommendations on the countrywide use of the drug for those on ventilators and requiring oxygen. 

The drug comes in injection and tablet form, but Cloete said only injections were available in SA. 

“We are obviously going to have to look at our supplies and order accordingly, and we don’t yet have the oral supplies [tablets], but the team is looking at availability and putting protocols together,” he said. 

On Wednesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa hailed the news of the breakthrough study. “In the midst of this life-destroying pandemic, we are greatly encouraged by news this week of a breakthrough in the treatment of Covid-19,” he said in a televised address. 

“We believe that this will improve our management of the disease among those who are most severely affected.” 

Speaking to news channel CNBC Africa, Aspen CEO  Stephen Saad said: “Dexamethasone is a steroidal product that the UK is recommending strongly and Aspen is a major global player in this particular type of steroid.” 

He said the tablets, unlike the injections, were “not readily available in SA, but it is made in our European facility, so that is something we could make available to our SA market”.

Saad said Aspen had been contacted by the government about the availability of supplies for SA and the rest of the continent. 

Peter Horby, a chief investigator on the Oxford University trial, said: “Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in Covid-19. This is an extremely welcome result.

“The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients. Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”