Dr Zweli Mkhize approves use of dexamethasone for critically ill Covid-19 patients

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Image: Photo by Gallo Images/Phill Magakoe

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has given the use of dexamethasone on critically ill Covid-19 patients the green light.

A trial study in the UK found that this anti-inflammation drug can save one in eight patients who are on ventilators and one in 25 who are in need of oxygen. 

The drug does not cure Covid-19.

Mkhize on Friday evening said this was a much needed breakthrough in the fight against the novel coronavirus and that it came just as the country was about to reach its infection peak.

Dexamethasone, which can be taken orally or injected, is manufactured locally and is said to cost between R149 and R179 per unit.

“We are immediately able to offer all patients that need intravenous dexamethasone- we have checked our stock and we currently have around 300 000 ampules in the country,” Mkhize said.

“This is one of those medicines where we do have excellent local capacity. There are three major suppliers of intravenous dexamethasone in the country. One of the companies manufactures the oral equivalent and supplies it all over the world and so we are able to negotiate the security of our own supply right here at home.”

At least 1 831 people have succumbed to the coronavirus so far with reported confirmed cases sitting at 87 715. The total number of recoveries is 47 825.

Mkhize said local health practitioners were familiar with the inexpensive dexamethasone and had been using it for decades.

“We therefore will be moving ahead to issue guidelines for the use of dexamethasone in all our facilities for desperately ill COVID-19 patients.

“We are so pleased that we have the wherewithal to deliver quality, evidence based health care to those who need it the most,” Mkhize said.

The ministerial advisory committee on coronavirus earlier this week said they believed dexamethasone drug may be considered to be used by doctors treating Covid-19 patients in South Africa.

Although they seemed to be erring on the side of caution, the advisory committee’s remarks were taken to mean that doctors can now consider using the drug.

“Whilst the MAC has made it clear their advisory is issued while awaiting the full study paper for closer assessment, we have learnt that leading clinicians in academic hospitals have been using the medicine and they are very excited that their anecdotal experiences have now been affirmed by higher levels of evidence,” Mkhize said.