Zweli Mkhize 'quite excited' about dexamethasone to treat Covid-19

18 June 2020 - 10:46 By Iavan Pijoos
A pharmacist displays a box of dexamethasone at the Erasme Hospital in Brussels, Belgium, on June 16 2020.
A pharmacist displays a box of dexamethasone at the Erasme Hospital in Brussels, Belgium, on June 16 2020.
Image: REUTERS/Yves Herman

Health minister Zweli Mkhize on Thursday said the latest Covid-19 treatment breakthrough, which found that the steroid drug dexamethasone can be used to save lives, will be of great benefit in the country’s fight against the virus.

“This drug has been there with us for a long time, but what is good is that there is now evidence that it is definitely helpful and for that reason we are quite excited.

“We have received a report from Oxford University [UK] that has indicated that about one third of the people on ventilators and 20% of those on oxygen tend to do much better [with the drug]. For us that is good news because at least we have something that has been proven, so we really hope it is going to help us reduce the numbers of people who succumbed to the infection,” Mkhize said.

Mkhize was speaking on the SAfm Sunrise show with Stephen Grootes.

Mkhize said protocols were being updated in hospitals to allow doctors to make use of the steroid drug.

After it had been found to be beneficial in the fight against Covid-19, doctors did not need permission but should know when to use the drug, Mkhize said.

“It is really important in our breakthrough, even though there is a lot more that needs to be done,” he said.

Dexamethasone has been hailed as a major breakthrough in Covid-19 treatment. According to a recent trial, the low-dose steroid treatment cuts the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators and by a fifth for those on oxygen. While the study is still awaiting peer review, some scientist have welcomed the preliminary results.

Mkhize told SAfm that dexamethasone was easy accessible in SA and steroid drugs had been used in treating autoimmune diseases in the country.

We believe it is going to be very helpful to confront the virus.”

He said the lockdown bought the health sector “some time” to add additional beds in hospitals.

“We are able to handle the numbers as predicted, but now the numbers have increased from the original plan that we had. We have asked all the provinces to push up the numbers of beds.”

According to Mkhize, only about 2,000 people were admitted to hospital. He said the country had prepared more than 27,000 beds.

“We are also procuring ventilators and have recruited additional staff.”

He said health professions were “largely on course” and nurses had been provided with enough PPEs.

“We always said that no health professional must see a Covid patient without adequate training and protection gear. Mistakes will happen because we are dealing with a large number of people, and when it happens, it needs to be reported and we will correct it.”

Addressing the nation on Wednesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said there is an ample supply of dexamethasone in the country. He believed that it would improve the country’s management of the disease among those who are severely affected.

Ramaphosa also announced the easing of restrictions on restaurants for sit-down meals, accredited and licensed accommodation, conferences and meetings for business purposes, cinemas and theatres.

Ramaphosa said casinos and personal care services, such as hairdressers and beauty salons, would be open for business. Non-contact sports such as golf, cricket and tennis would also be permitted. He said a date for the easing of restrictions was yet to be announced.

Mkhize said the easing was important to allow the country’s economy to recover, saying that the economy and social activities needed to be reactivated.

“If you put too much strain on restrictions you are going to end up with a problem where people are going to die of other causes of death like malnutrition and the impact of other diseases.”

Mkhize added that schools could also not be closed for two years.

“Flattening the curve is a day-to-day struggle.”


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