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A health official collects a man’s swab sample in New Delhi on Wednesday. (AFP)
A health official collects a man’s swab sample in New Delhi on Wednesday. (AFP)

WHO says dexamethasone is a lifesaver for critically ill

  • Breakthrough raises hope for patients as number of covid-19 cases in India cross 360,000
  • Based on WHO results, 1 death would be prevented in 8 ventilator patients or 25 requiring oxygen

NEW DELHI : The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that initial clinical trial results from Oxford University showed dexamethasone, a steroid, to be lifesaving for critically ill covid-19 patients. The acknowledgement of the breakthrough came as the number of covid cases in India touched 360,365 and deaths crossed 12,057.

For patients on ventilators, the treatment was shown to reduce deaths by a third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about a fifth, according to preliminary findings shared with WHO.

However, the benefit was only seen in patients seriously ill with covid-19, and was not observed in patients with milder disease. “This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with covid-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

Based on these results, one death would be prevented in eight patients on ventilators or 25 requiring oxygen. Given the public health importance of these results, researchers are working to publish the full details as soon as possible, Oxford University said.

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Graphic: Mint

“The survival benefit is clear and large in those patients who are sick enough to require oxygen treatment, so dexamethasone should now become standard of care in these patients. Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide," said Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at Nuffield, Oxford, and one of the chief investigators for the trial.

On Wednesday, the UK said it has approved the use of dexamethasone by the NHS, calling it “the world’s first coronavirus treatment".

Dexamethasone has been used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in a range of conditions and has been mentioned on the WHO list of essential medicines since 1977. It is cheap and easily available.

Indian doctors have been successfully using another medication, methylprednisolone, in handling patients with moderate to severe coronavirus. It reduces mortality and reduces the severity of symptoms, doctors claimed.

“Steroids are effective medicines in dealing with covid-19 and they reduce the complications and severity in sick patients. Dexamethasone will be a good choice as it is supported by a large trial and is a cost-effective drug," said Dr Vikramjeet Singh, internal medicine specialist at Aakash Healthcare.

“Dexamethasone is of the same group as methylprednisolone, hence the effects will be similar. Diabetic patients have a disarrangement of blood sugar values with steroids. But it is deemed necessary to use in covid infection as it is a life-saving drug," he said.

WHO said Oxford researchers shared initial insights about the results of the trial with it, and “we are looking forward to the full data analysis in the coming days". The health agency said it will coordinate a meta-analysis to increase the world’s overall understanding of this intervention.

WHO’s clinical guidance will be updated to reflect how and when the drug should be used in covid-19.

The development builds off the WHO Research & Development Blueprint meeting, which took place in Geneva in mid-February to accelerate the discovery of treatments for covid-19. Further research into the use of steroids was highlighted as a priority at the meeting.

Meanwhile, the recovery rate in India has risen to 52.80%, the health ministry said. A total of 186,934 patients have been cured so far, including 6,922 in the past 24 hours. Currently, 155,227 active cases are under medical supervision.

Following Union home minister Amit Shah’s decision to double covid-19 tests in Delhi after an all-party meeting, 16,618 samples have been collected on 15 and 16 June, compared to 4,000 to 4,500 daily till 14 June, the ministry of home affairs said on Wednesday.

The home ministry also announced that the price for covid-19 test in the national capital has been fixed at 2,400 as suggested by a high-level committee set up by the home minister on Sunday and now tests will be done via rapid antigen method.

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