What you need to know about dexamethasone, the 'life-saving Covid-19 drug'

17 June 2020 - 15:17
By Cebelihle Bhengu

Dexamethasone, a common steroid, could potentially reduce death rates among Covid-19 patients. This is according to clinical results released by UK experts on Tuesday.

Here's what you need to know:

What is dexamethasone and what does it do?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), dexamethasone is a steroid which has been used since the 1960s, and is recognised for its ability to reduce inflammatory disorders and certain cancers.

It's “life-saving” and cheap, says experts

Martin Landray, an Oxford University professor co-leading the trial, said  it will be difficult to find another drug or vaccine that will potentially replace “life-saving” dexamethasone, which is also affordable.

“This is a (trial) result that shows that if patients who have Covid-19 and are on ventilators or are on oxygen are given dexamethasone, it will save lives, and it will do so at a remarkably low cost.”


The World Health Organisation's Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the study revealed that the benefit of the drug was seen in both mildly ill and severely ill patients. He said this is the first treatment that has been proven to significantly reduce death rates among Covid-19 sufferers.

How the trial was conducted 

The trial assessed results of about 2,100 patients who were put on dexamethasone and 4,300 patients who weren't. Robin Ferner, honorary professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Birmingham, said he hopes that the data is released as soon as possible so health care professionals are able to use it.

Dexamethasone part of bigger trial

The drug was part of the RECOVERY trial, an initiative by the University of Oxford in the UK, which tested drugs including lopinavir-ritonavir, which is commonly used to treat HIV, azithromycin, a commonly used antibiotic, and low dose dexamethasone to see which of these will work best in the fight against Covid-19.

Over 11,500 patients from different hospitals in the UK have participated in the trial so far, making it the world's biggest trial testing, according to BBC.

It reported on Wednesday morning that experts said up to 5,000 lives lost to Covid-19 could have been saved, had the drug been used at the start of the pandemic in the UK.

Zweli Mkhize's response

TimesLIVE reported on Wednesday morning, that health minister Zweli Mkhize described the trial as “an important breakthrough” in the management of Covid-19.

“We are extremely excited that there has been an important breakthrough in one of the therapeutic trials for Covid-19 management.

“The RECOVERY (randomised evaluation of Covid-19 therapy) trial has published results on the therapeutic merits of low dose dexamethasone which are extremely promising and are easily implementable in our country.”