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Dexamethasone should only be used for patients with severe or critical cases of COVID: WHO
Geneva, June 23, 2020
Pointing to the continuing spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) across the globe, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus on Monday urged countries to be careful and creative in finding solutions that enable people to stay safe while getting on with their lives.
"It seems that almost every day we reach a new and grim record. Yesterday, more than 183,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported to WHO – easily the most in a single day so far. More than 8.8 million cases have now been reported to WHO, and more than 465,000 people have lost their lives," Ghebreyesus said at a press conference here.
He said that some countries were continuing to see a rapid increase in cases and deaths. Others that have successfully suppressed transmission are now seeing an upswing in cases as they reopen their societies and economies.
"All countries are facing a delicate balance, between protecting their people, while minimizing the social and economic damage. It’s not a choice between lives and livelihoods. Countries can do both," he said.
Ghebreyesus urged all countries to double down on the fundamental public health measures that are known to work.
"Finding and testing suspected cases works. Isolating and caring for the sick works. Tracing and quarantining contacts works. And protecting health workers works.
"At the same time, these measures can only be effective if each and every individual takes the measures that we also know work to protect themselves and others. Maintain physical distance. Continue cleaning your hands. And wear a mask where appropriate.
"Just as we do the things that we know work to prevent the spread of the disease, we’re also learning more about how to treat the sick," he said.
Ghebreyesus said that, although the data are still preliminary, the recent finding that the steroid dexamethasone has life-saving potential for critically ill COVID-19 patients gave a much-needed reason to celebrate. The next challenge is to increase production and rapidly and equitably distribute dexamethasone worldwide, focusing on where it is needed most, he said.
Demand has already surged, following the UK trial results showing dexamethasone's clear benefit, he said.
"Fortunately, this is an inexpensive medicine and there are many dexamethasone manufacturers worldwide, who we are confident can accelerate production.
"Guided by solidarity, countries must work together to ensure supplies are prioritized for countries where there are large numbers of critically ill patients, and that supplies remain available to treat other diseases for which it is needed.
"Transparency and constant monitoring will be key to ensuring needs dictate supplies, rather than means. It is also important to check that suppliers can guarantee quality, as there is a high risk of substandard or falsified products entering the market.
"WHO emphasizes that dexamethasone should only be used for patients with severe or critical disease, under close clinical supervision.
"There is no evidence this drug works for patients with mild disease or as a preventative measure, and it could cause harm," he stressed.
Ghebreyesus also gave details of WHO's continuing support for countries with essential supplies of personal protective equipment and laboratory diagnostics and its efforts to help countries maintain essential health services.
"WHO recently surveyed countries to assess the impact of the pandemic on essential health services.
"Of the 82 countries that have responded so far, more than half have limited or suspended at least one service delivery platform, such as outpatient or inpatient services, or community-based care. Almost three quarters of countries reported that dental and rehabilitation services have been partially or completely disrupted.
"Around two-thirds of countries reported disruptions to routine immunization, diagnosis and treatment for noncommunicable diseases and family planning and contraception. More than half of countries reported disruptions for mental health disorders, antenatal care, cancer diagnosis and treatment, and services for sick children.
"Countries are using a variety of strategies to deal with these disruptions, including triage, telemedicine and redirecting patients to alternative health facilities. Still, the consequences of these disruptions will be felt for many years to come.
"The world is learning the hard way that health is not a luxury item; it’s the cornerstone of security, stability and prosperity.
"That’s why it’s essential that countries not only respond urgently to the pandemic, but also that they invest in strong health systems domestically, and in global health security.
"Last year, world leaders came together at the United Nations General Assembly in New York to adopt a landmark political declaration on universal health coverage.
"Now more than ever, all countries must make universal health coverage a priority. It’s not a question of whether countries can afford to do this, it’s a question of whether they can afford not to," Ghebreyesus added.