Cheap steroid saves lives in SA

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Colleta Dewa   

Johannesburg – South Africa has witnessed a huge reduction in the number of COVID-19 intensive care patients following introduction of dexamethasone in the treatment regime, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has said.

South Africa approved use of dexamethasone two months ago after researchers at Oxford University in the United Kingdom announced preliminary results showing that the drug reduced the mortality rate of patients on ventilators by a third, and of those requiring oxygen by a fifth.

Dexamethasone, a relatively affordable drug, is a steroid that has been used since the 1960s for inflammatory disorders and certain cancers, and has been listed on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines since 1977.

The drug is off-patent, meaning any pharmaceutical company can produce it.

Dr Mkhize this week said, “It appears we may have benefited from treatment developments while we were experiencing our surge. Our indications are that there has already been an improvement in the survival rate from ICU where the mortality has been reduced demonstrably: one study shows ICU mortality has been reduced by about 25 percent since the introduction of dexamethasone on June 16.

“In another study undertaken by the MRC (Medical Research Council), ICU survival rates showed dramatic improvement at 30-40 percent, whereas the ICU mortality rate at the beginning of the pandemic was around 80 percent.”

South Africa is also one of several countries participating in an experimnteal COVID-19 vaccine trial being conducted between drug-maker AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

In addition to that, last week Higher, Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande said the government was building a coronavirus vaccine manufacturing plant that would be jointly run with pharmaceutical companies and private sector specialists.

“The aim is to get South Africa into a state of readiness to manufacture an approved COVID-19 vaccine locally. In anticipation of the huge demand, should a candidate vaccine be identified, manufacturing facilities will need to be established in different regions. The Southern African Development Community and African continent region as a whole will need to be ready.”

The South African government he said, was at the same time developing ventilators locally, and investing in mass production of the hand sanitisers and 3D-printed face shields.

 

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