by Okeri Ngutjinazo and Yokany Oliveira
HEALTH minister Kalumbi Shangula says the country’s first batch of remdesivir, an antiviral drug used in patients with severe Covid-19 symptoms, has been distributed to various hospitals.
The health ministry has ordered more than N$3 million worth of the medication so far.
Namibia received 1 000 ampoules of the drug on Monday last week and is still waiting for more. The minister, however, did not indicate to which hospitals the first batch was sent to.
Remdesivir is an antiviral drug which was developed by an American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences to treat Ebola.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday announced that it would broaden the scope of the existing emergency use authorisation for remdesivir to include treatment of all hospitalised adult and paediatric patients with suspected or laboratory-confirmed Covid-19, irrespective of the severity of the disease.
Although remdesivir did not prove as an effective treatment for Ebola patients, it later showed promising results in fighting the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) virus which are illnesses caused by a large family of coronaviruses.
Shangula said the drug is used in the treatment of Covid-19 patients as it has been shown to shorten the time to recovery in patients and lower the death rate.
“The medicine is part of our essential medicines and will be procured in the same manner like all other medicines. The medicines were already distributed to hospitals and will be prescribed by doctors according to indications,” he said.
The drug may reportedly be used in five-day or 10-day treatment durations, depending on the severity of the disease.
Health ministry executive director Ben Nangombe yesterday said the ministry has ordered 3 000 vials of remdesivir in total, with the balance set to arrive in two weeks’ time.
“The price for one remdesivir vial ranges between N$800 and just above N$1 000,” he said.
Nangombe said the l 3 000 vials cost the ministry more than N$3 million. The medicine is manufactured in India.
Windhoek-based pulmonologist Dr Willie Bruwer, who practises at the city’s Lady Pohamba Private Hospital, says if drug trials go well, the world could see an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus by early next year.
“There’s a few good candidates in stage three trials which seem to be going well, and there are a few companies that have started producing vaccines already in anticipation of having an effective vaccine going through to stage three trials,” he said.
He says Namibia is fortunate in that most of the international community realises that Covid-19 is a humanitarian crisis and treatment to mitigate the spread and deaths remains a top priority for health organisations around the world.
He raised concern over the public labelling Covid-19 as a flu, adding that it’s the first time he has worked in a hospital where there are so many patients with the same diagnoses, which is what has put a strain on the health services.
“We are at the beginning of the local epidemic of this global pandemic; we can already see the hospital beds are starting to fill up, we have to move patients frequently from hospital to hospital,” he said, as the number of Covid-19-related admissions rise.
Shangula last Friday said Namibia has been engaging the international community regarding the development of a Covid-19 vaccine in recent months and weeks.
“Through the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility, we have participated in several meetings and interactions on this matter. More information will be provided to the public in the coming weeks through regular updates on this process,” Shangula said at State House during a briefing on the Covid-19 pandemic last week.