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Covid-19 breakthrough drug dexamethasone is made in SA

by Busisani Ncube
17 Jun 2020 at 14:03hrs | Views
The newly-discovered coronavirus breakthrough drug dexamethasone is produced and readily available in South Africa, giving hope amid a surge in both infections and deaths.

The drug was already used for inflammatory disorders and certain cancers but it has now been found to be useful in coronavirus treatment.

A clinical trial in the United Kingdom concluded that dexamethasone, a steroid, can save critically ill coronavirus patients requiring any respiratory intervention, in what has been hailed as a major breakthrough in finding a remedy for the global pandemic.

Research shows that the drug reduced deaths by one-third for Covid-19 patients on ventilators and it cuts mortality by about one-fifth on patients requiring oxygen according to preliminary findings shared with and approved by the World Health Organisation.

The findings came from 2104 randomised patients who had 6mg of dexamethasone administered on them per day for 10 days among over 11, 500 patients who were enrolled for the trial from over 175 NHS hospitals in the UK.

South African pharmaceutical giant Aspen makes dexamethasone injections whose regulated price range between R149 (US$8.65) and R176 (US$10.22) locally.

The company, which has international markets including the UK, is projecting an increase in demand for the drug and its chief executive officer Stephen Saad has given assurance for adequate supplies on the domestic front.

"It all depends on where and when we get the surges. We should be fine for South Africa, [as] we make this in South Africa," Mr Saad told Business Insider.

Fears that there could be a shortage of the drug in South Africa comes following insufficient supplies in 2006 after patent holder Merck & Company stopped production in what was a huge medical inconvenience for cancer patients who rely on the drug.

But Aspen is now producing dexamethasone while companies like Adcock Ingram and Sanofi are registered to distribute the drug in South Africa.

Apart from concerns about the stock running out, affordability for the R149 to R176 drug is also another issue that could be raised by the economically distressed South Africans grappling with the economic impacts of the pandemic.

The government could however make interventions in making dexamethasone easily accessible through the coronavirus relief package already in place.

The findings on dexamethasone come as South Africa has the highest coronavirus infections in Africa with 76,334 and 1,625 deaths which are close to Egypt's 1,766 which is the highest mortality on the continent.

South Africa intends to relax lockdown regulations within alert level three to allow businesses like hair and beauty care to operate as well as restaurants to open for sit-in patrons.

The government is yet to add its voice on discoveries about dexamethasone which is listed as an essential medicine by WHO.

Meanwhile, Morocco has shipped out consignments of locally manufactured and internationally approved medical supplies to 15 African countries.

The north African country this week dispatched eight million face masks, 900,000 visors, 600,000 hygiene caps, 60,000 medical coats, 30,000 litres of hydroalcoholic gel all manufactured locally.

"All the products and protective equipment part of the medical aid sent are manufactured by Moroccan companies and comply with the standards of the World Health Organization," Morocco's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The supplies were sent out at the instruction of His Majesty King Mohammed VI.

"It's also composed of 75,000 packs of chloroquine and 15,000 packs of Azithromycin, two drugs used for the treatment of Covid-19.

The aid will benefit 15 African countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia," the department said

Source - Busisani Ncube