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Covid-19: Too early to pin hopes on cheap steroid

2020-06-19  Selma Ikela

Covid-19: Too early to pin hopes on cheap steroid
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Presidential advisor on health matters Dr Bernard Haufiku said it is too early to call the low-dose steroid dexamethasone a medical breakthrough for Covid-19 treatment. 
This week scientists in the United Kingdom announced that a cheap and widely available drug could help save the lives of patients seriously ill with coronavirus.  According to the BBC, the drug is part of the world’s biggest trial testing existing treatments to see if they also work for coronavirus patients. 

UK experts announced the drug is said to reduce death by 35% in patients who need treatment with breathing machines and by 20% in those only needed supplemental oxygen. 
Health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula said dexamethasone has been in existence for many years, having been used in many severe cases. 

According to Shangula, any product found to be effective against Covid-19 will be used if there is an indication for it to be used. 
However, he said, it will depend on the condition of the patient because “you don’t use on everybody”. 
Asked if the drug would be administered on the one patient, who is hospitalised on a ventilator in a Walvis Bay facility, Shangula responded it is the discretion of the administering doctor to see if the patient’s condition warrants that. 
“It is not specific to say that for Covid-19 you use dexamethasone, for pneumonia you use dexamethasone. It can be used in many other conditions, but it depends on the condition of the patient and the implication for it to be used,” Shangula explained.  
In addition, Haufiku said the study has not yet been peer-reviewed according to a statement by UK deputy Chief Medical officer, Jonathan van Tam. Haufiku said the results should be received with caution. He said there are many trials being conducted but none has produced irrefutable results. 

“The jury is still out there,” he said. He explained dexamethasone is not a newly discovered drug but one that has been there for sometimes.  He said it is part of a group of medicine called corticosteroids or simply steroids.  “Of note here is the fact that even in patients diagnosed with severe cases of Covid-19, the leading complication and major cause of death is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, (ARDS) which has a similar pathophysiologic process. So, it does make sense to have some promising results among coronavirus patients who develop ARDS-related lung complications,” the former health minister advised.  
Haufiku said the basic and simple established protocols and measures such as social distancing, hand washing or sanitising, wearing of masks and temperature screening remain the strongest weapons against the prevention of Covid-19 infections.

2020-06-19  Selma Ikela

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