WHO approves dexamethasone to treat COVID-19 patients

The fight against COVID-19 has received a major leap following confirmation that the steroid, dexamethasone, has life-saving potential for critically ill COVID-19 patients.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said during a recent virtual briefing from Geneva, said the next challenge was how to increase production and rapidly and equitably distribute dexamethasone worldwide, focusing on where it is needed most.

According to researchers from Oxford University, a low-dose regimen of dexamethasone, which is typically used to treat certain forms of arthritis, severe allergies, asthma, and certain types of cancer for 10 days was found to reduce the risk of death by a third among hospitalised patients requiring ventilation in the trial.

Ghebreyesus said although the data is still preliminary, the recent finding that dexamethasone has life-saving potential for critically ill COVID-19 patients gave much-needed reason to celebrate.

“Demand has already surged, following the UK trial results showing dexamethasone’s clear benefit. Fortunately, this is an inexpensive medicine and there are many dexamethasone manufacturers worldwide, who we are confident can accelerate production. Guided by solidarity, countries must work together to ensure supplies are prioritised for countries where there are large numbers of critically ill patients, and that supplies remain available to treat other diseases for which it is needed.

“Transparency and constant monitoring will be key to ensuring needs dictate supplies, rather than means. It is also important to check that suppliers can guarantee quality, as there is a high risk of substandard or falsified products entering the market.

“WHO emphasises that dexamethasone should only be used for patients with severe or critical disease, under close clinical supervision. There is no evidence this drug works for patients with mild disease or as a preventative measure, and it could cause harm,” Ghebreyesus said.

Dexamethasone is a steroid that has been used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in a range of conditions, including inflammatory disorders and certain cancers. It has been listed on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines since 1977 in multiple formulations, and is currently off-patent and affordably available in most countries.

Meanwhile, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has pledged to collaborate with indigenous scientists in the development of drugs or vaccines.

The Director-General, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, said the agency’s interventions would allow for documentation of such initiatives for global recording as potential vaccines or drugs that is in process or safety testing.

She said the agency would open its doors to the team of Nigerian scientists that declared they are working on a vaccine for COVID-19.

“It will be a great thing if Nigeria develops her vaccine, but all the steps stated above will have to be followed,” she said.

According to her, it takes time to develop a vaccine and NAFDAC will be the first to be informed of any such developments in the country.

“That testing will involve the use of the virus and then animals. If all goes well, researchers will then plan for clinical trial which will take a long time from 18 months to years.”

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