Coronavirus drug breakthrough – and how it will be used in South Africa

South Africa will look at the use of the drug, dexamethasone, as a means of the treatment for severe Covid-19 cases in the country.

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize said in a statement early on Wednesday morning (17 June), that the drug had seen a successful trial in the UK.

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.

For patients on ventilators, the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth.

While the full findings of the trial are still required, South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) said that use of the drug may be considered for patients with a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19 who are being mechanically ventilated.

While it noted that the effect of the drug is not as effective for patients who are not mechanically ventilated, the MAC also advised that the drug be used on patients who require general oxygen support.

“This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

“This is great news and I congratulate the Government of the UK, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the UK who have contributed to this lifesaving scientific breakthrough.”

On Tuesday (16 June), Mkhize announced that South Africa now has 76,334 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

This is up by ‬ 2,801 cases from the 73,533 infections on Tuesday, while the highest daily record of 4,302 new cases was reported on Sunday.

The minister announced 57 new deaths, taking the total up to 1,625, and a mortality rate of 2.1%, while recoveries increased to 42,063, which translates to a recovery rate of 55.1%.

The minister said that 44 casualties are in the Western Cape, 9 from the Eastern Cape, and 4 from KwZulu-Natal.

A total of 1,148,933 tests have been conducted to date, with 26,975 over the past 24 hours, the minister said.

Read: South Africa needs to build a new culture: Mkhize


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Coronavirus drug breakthrough – and how it will be used in South Africa