Thandeka Moyo -Ndlovu, Health Reporter
PATIENTS suffering from severe cases of Covid-19 in the country have started receiving dexamethasone, a drug which United Kingdom scientists found to be effective in reducing deaths of patients on ventilators and those receiving oxygen.
The drug which is available in Zimbabwe has been used to treat inflammation, asthma, certain forms of arthritis; skin, blood, kidney, eye, thyroid, and intestinal disorders since the 1960s.
Researchers at Oxford University announced on June 16 that dexamethasone reduces deaths in one-third of patients on ventilators and one-fifth of those who require oxygen, a major breakthrough in the fight against the virus.
The UK government then directed that it should be administered immediately on patients.
The drug can be taken either orally or through an injection and it is readily locally available in pharmacies around the country.
Local pharmacies charge a minimum of US$2 for the drug up to US$20 depending on the dosage. Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro yesterday said the drug has always been in stock and medical practitioners know how to administer it.
He said it was now being given to Covid-19 patients but could not readily say when exactly it started to be used in the fight against the virus or the number of patients treated so far.
“We do have stocks of dexamethasone as we have always used it as an anti-inflammatory drug. Coronavirus or Covid-19 is a metabolic disease which needs anti-inflammatory drugs so Dexamethasone is appropriate and we have it here,” said Dr Mangwiro.
He said the drug is not be given to everyone who tests Covid-19 positive as most of those do not need medication.
“We cannot say we are dishing it out every day because drugs need to be used when relevant and when necessary if patients have correct symptoms, we don’t just dish to everyone. We know when to use it and how to use it appropriately so those who need it will be given,” said the deputy minister.
According to Dr Mangwiro, 80 to 85 percent of people who have tested positive recover on their own, hence there is no need for medication in such cases.
“Covid-19 causes inflammation in the body depending on where it goes; be it the lungs, kidneys or it can even cause heart attacks. So, dexamethasone slows down that inflammation that is how it helps people recover from the global pandemic,” said Dr Mangwiro.
As of Tuesday, seven people have died of Covid-19 in Zimbabwe and 591 cases have been reported since the first case was reported on March 20.
The use of dexamethasone which has long been on the market follows the recent decision to test Covid-19 using the GeneXpert device, a machine that was widely deployed about a decade ago to rapidly detect tuberculosis, including multi-drug resistant strains.
According to experts, there are some 23 000 GeneXpert devices worldwide, including an estimated 7 000-10 000 instruments scattered across Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia. The machine can process nose swab samples in 45 minutes and perform up to 96 tests in 24 hours. — @thamamoe