by Okeri Ngetjinazo

LOCAL specialist physician Dr Ishmael Katjitae says the condition of two patients, who have been treated with remdesevir – an antiviral medicine used in patients with severe Covid-19 symptoms, has shown improvement so far.

Dr Ishmael Katjitae. Photo: MICT

The country received 1 000 ampoules of the antiviral medicine two weeks ago, which has been distributed to state and private hospitals. The ministry of health ordered 3 000 ampoules in total with the rest yet to arrive.

The drug is only administered to hospitalised patients with severe Covid-19 symptoms and it has been found to shorten the recovery time of patients and lower the death rate. The patients have to give written consent before they are given the drug.

While speaking on the medical management of Covid-19 on Friday at the communication centre, Katjitae gave the example of two patients who showed improvement after he used the drug on them.

The first patient was a 50-year-old with severe respiratory difficulties, who needed mechanical support to breathe.

“This patient came in with what we would classify as severe Covid-19, she had severe respiratory difficulties, she could not breath without receiving oxygen and she advanced to the stage where she needed mechanical support,” he said.

Katjitae said he looked after the patient for three weeks in the intensive care unit but after she was administered with the drug she got out of ICU but the lung is still fragile.

He added that the patient will still need another three weeks before she can be discharged.

Another patient with comorbidities came with symptoms and they did a lung scan, which revealed typical Covid-19 changes. The patient later tested positive.

“We gave that person remdesevir. After two to three days, the patient’s symptoms disappeared. We had to do other tests as well to make sure they did not have any other conditions. This patient was discharged within a short time,” he said.

Meanwhile, pulmonologist Dr Johannes Willem Bruwer said the drug works by directly inhabiting the coronavirus, limiting its ability to replicate, therefore, helping the body overcome the infection.

He said specialists use it for moderate-to-severe Covid-19 patients, as there is the benefit of limiting the length of stay in the hospital and improving chances of survival too.

There were concerns from the public as well when the pictures of remdesevir started circulating, as the labelling stated that it was not for distribution in the United States of America, Canada or the European Union.

The antiviral drug was developed by American biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences.

Epidemiologist Dr Catherine Muwonge, during the discussion at the communication centre, explained that the drug was available for sale in Western countries but it was very expensive at the time so lower income countries could not afford it.

“To enable lower income countries to access the drug, Gilead allowed their patent to be sold to other pharmaceutical companies so that it can be manufactured and sold to those countries at a subsidised price,” she said.

However, in the agreement made between the developer and the other pharmaceutical companies, Muwonge said the subsidised drug should not be sold in the market where it is coming from, hence the label.

Katjitae added that these drugs are tested and made at a high cost so there is a need for return in the end for the developer.

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