Kampala, Uganda | URN | The World Health Organization (WHO) has hailed the news that a common steroid, dexamethasone, can potentially help save the lives of patients with severe cases of COVID-19, but it warned that it is by no means a cure-all.
Early findings suggest that for hospitalized coronavirus patients on oxygen, dexamethasone – a low-cost prescription anti-inflammatory drug that is available worldwide – can reduce COVID-19 mortality by about one-fifth.
This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support. For those on ventilators, mortality is reduced by one-third, according to a University of Oxford team of researchers that compared about 2,000 patients treated with the steroid with 4,000 who were not.
“This is very welcome news for those patients with severe illness,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a virtual media briefing from Geneva. But he emphasized that dexamethasone was shown to have no beneficial effect for those with milder symptoms who do not need respiratory support.
Michael Ryan, the Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme said the WHO is waiting for further details before it can draw up clinical guidelines to share with the public health authorities around the world. But, he cautioned the drug is not for mild cases or prophylaxis.
Through the WHO’s global research and innovation forum on COVID-19, hundreds of researchers from around the world are racing to come up with quality diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for the coronavirus.
One of its priorities is to investigate the potential of existing medicines like dexamethasone and Remdesivir, a relatively new Ebola drug that appears to reduce the duration of coronavirus symptoms from 15 days to 11 days.
While COVID-19 is touching every corner of the world, Mr Tedros stressed the need to remain focused as well on essential public health concerns such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-AIDS. WHO put the number of COVID-19 fatalities worldwide at 434,796 out of more than reported 7.94 million cases, as of Tuesday
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic, meanwhile said that governments must depend on solid data in determining how, when and where to ease restrictions on movement and public gatherings – and to be ready to reinstate them, hopefully temporarily.