Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza on Wednesday said that a team of Pakistani experts will evaluate the use of Dexamethasone as a treatment for critically ill COVID-19 patients after reports that the steroid had provided successful clinical trial results in initial phases of testing.
In a series of tweet on Wednesday, Dr Mirza pointed out that the World Health Organization (WHO) has welcomed the initial clinical trial results from the United Kingdom, which show that Dexamethasone can prove life saving for patients who are critically ill with COVID-19.
“It is an old and cheap anti-inflammatory medicine (steroid) and we have multiple producers in Pakistan,” tweeted the SAPM.
However, Dr Mirza warned that dexamethasone is only for the use of critically ill COVID-19 patients who are on oxygen and ventilators.
“The medicine must not be used by mild to moderate patients and self-medication is strictly prohibited and can be dangerous as the medicine has many side-effects,” Dr Mirza warned.
Data from an ongoing trial showed on Tuesday that administering low doses of Dexamethasone to coronavirus patients admitted to hospital reduced death rates by around a third among those with the most severe cases of infection.
The results, described as a “major breakthrough” by scientists leading the UK-led clinical trial known as RECOVERY, suggest the drug should immediately become standard care in patients treated in hospital with the coronavirus disease, the researchers said.
“This is a result that shows that if patients who have COVID-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost,” said Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor who is co-leading the trial.
His co-lead investigator, Peter Horby, said dexamethasone — a generic steroid widely used in other diseases to reduce inflammation — is “the only drug that’s so far shown to reduce mortality, and it reduces it significantly.”
“It is a major breakthrough,” he said.
“Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.”
There are currently no approved treatments or vaccines for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus which has killed more than 431,000 people globally.
BBC’s Health Correspondent Fergus Walsh, in his analysis of the development, said this is something to “celebrate” because it means patients across the world could “benefit immediately.”
“The first drug proven to cut deaths from COVID-19 is not some new, expensive medicine but an old, cheap-as-chips steroid,” Walsh said.
“The implications are so huge globally.”
The drug has been in use since the early 1960s to treat a wide range of conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.
The breakthrough is a major step towards the availability of a cheap drug for the treatment of the virus.