Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says that South Africa will use dexamethasone as a means of coronavirus treatment, but has warned that the drug should not be seen as a cure.
Dexamethasone is an anti-inflammatory medication, used to relieve inflammation in various parts of the body.
Mkhize said in an interview with eNCA, that the medication will be useful for people in intensive care (ICU), on oxygen or ventilators.
He said that it has improved the lives of those on ventilators by around 20% and those on oxygen by around 30%.
“That means it reduces the number of people who die. It does not necessarily stop anyone from succumbing to Covid-19. It has no effect on people with milder symptoms.”
“…It should also be understood that if the number of infected becomes ‘too huge’ then you will end up with people who are not even able to reach the hospital because of the large numbers (of people) overwhelming our health services.
“So the balance of this very helpful drug needs to be understood in this context.”
Mkhize said that he expects the Western Cape’s coronavirus cases to peak sometime between the last week of June and the end of July.
The region has surpassed 50,000 infections, more than half of the country’s total (52.9%), while the region accounts for 1,419 out of 1,930 total deaths to date.
However, the minister noted that around 4,000 people are hospitalised around the country, while 800 are on some form of oxygen support.
“The stocks we have at the country is enough as dexamethasone has been used for decades in South Africa and many other countries all over the world for other conditions.
“It is something that is available. Since it has been put into the protocols every hospital can now use it. At the money we have over 340,000 vials which means we will have enough for the next couple of weeks. But we will continue increasing our stocks and producing more.”
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.”