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WHO welcomes ‘great news’ as cheap steroid is shown to be effective against Covid-19

Director-General of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Director-General of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Christopher Black/WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) responded positively to the release of research that shows dexamethasone, a widely available steroid, can be lifesaving for patients who are critically ill with COVID-19.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was moving to update its guidelines on treating people stricken with COVID-19 to reflect results of a clinical trial that showed a cheap, common steroid can help save critically ill patients.

The drug, however, is only effective in seriously ill people.

Trial results announced on Tuesday showed dexamethasone, used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in diseases such as arthritis, cut death rates by around a third among the most severely ill COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital.

A statement issued by the WHO read:

“The World Health Organization (WHO) welcomes the initial clinical trial results from the United Kingdom (UK) that show dexamethasone, a corticosteroid, can be lifesaving for patients who are critically ill with COVID-19.”

However, it added that it was only effective for patients on ventilators, in which the treatment was shown to reduce mortality by about one third, and for patients requiring only oxygen, mortality was cut by about one fifth, according to preliminary findings shared with WHO.

Dexamethasone is a steroid that has been used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in a range of conditions, including inflammatory disorders and certain cancers.

It has been listed on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines since 1977 in multiple formulations, and is currently off-patent and affordably available in most countries.

Although the dexamethasone study’s results are preliminary, the researchers behind the project said it suggests the drug should immediately become standard care in severely stricken patients.

The positive news comes as coronavirus infections accelerated in some places including the United States and as Beijing cancelled scores of flights to help contain a fresh outbreak in China’s capital.

“This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. The agency said it was looking forward to the full data analysis of the study in coming days.

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

 

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