The effectivity of a cheap and widely available drug in reducing the mortality rates of patients with severe COVID-19 illness offers abundant hope.
This significant breakthrough couldn’t have come at a better time since the new coronavirus continues to infect people worldwide (cases have crossed 8 million worldwide), and when some countries are scrambling to head off a second wave of infections.
Scientists at the University of Oxford announced on Tuesday that their study found a low-dose treatment of dexamethasone helped save the lives of one-third of patients on ventilators (breathing machines). About 26 per cent of patients on oxygen support also benefited from the treatment.
The researchers are agog. They estimate that up to 5,000 deaths in Britain could have been prevented if the drug was used to treat the critically-ill COVID-19 patients from the onset of the pandemic. The UK’s National Health Service now is moving swiftly to make the medication available for patients
This is arguably the first significant discovery in treating COVID-19 ever since the new coronavirus travelled from Wuhan, China, to the rest of the world.
Since it is inexpensive and available globally, countries can quickly introduce dexamethasone into their treatment protocols. The affordability is a boon for poorer countries battling to contain the spread of the virus.
Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that has been in use since 1961. The anti-inflammatory medication has been used to treat a range of conditions like arthritis, breathing disorders, allergic reactions, immune system issues and cancer. So its effects and side-effects are well-documented. This will allow doctors around the world to deploy the medication soon.
A word of caution. Since the drug is readily available, people should not start taking dexamethasone. It has to be done under medical supervision. A doctor should prescribe it and monitor the patient’s progress. Also, this drug is only given to hospitalised patients who are critically ill.
Any new study now has to be met with a dose a scepticism, especially since the medical journal Lancet retracted a published paper following a study on using anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients. The Oxford study is yet to be peer-reviewed and published. So optimism should be restrained till more proof is available.
But the researchers are agog. They estimate that up to 5,000 deaths in Britain could have been prevented if the drug was used to treat the critically-ill COVID-19 patients from the onset of the pandemic. The UK’s National Health Service now is moving swiftly to make the medication available for patients.
The elation is understandable since there has been no drug to treat the dying. So dexamethasone offers more than a glimmer of hope to the sickest patients. Especially since hydroxychloroquine has had mixed reviews and remdesivir is not readily available.