News | Published June 17 2020

WHO head commends UK for Covid-19 breakthrough

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has congratulated the United Kingdom for what may well be the biggest breakthrough to date in the fight against Covid-19.

Speaking amid news of the discovery from the University of Oxford that a 50p per day steroid could reduce deaths from the coronavirus by up to a third, the head of the World Health Organisation said:

‘I congratulate the government of the UK, the University of Oxford, and the many hospitals and patients in the UK who have contributed to this lifesaving scientific breakthrough.’

The University’s research indicates that the steroid dexamethasone, which will now be given to NHS patients, could have prevented up to 5,000 deaths in Britain alone had it been used from the start of the pandemic.

The prime minister immediately called it ‘the biggest breakthrough yet’ in the coronavirus battle, as it was recalled that Britain had a stockpile of the steroid sufficient for 200,000 patients.

Martin Landray, Oxford’s professor of medicine and epidemiology, branded it ‘a result of instant global importance.’ He continued, ‘the search has been on for a treatment that actually reduces the risk of dying and there hasn’t been one until today.’

The Recovery project, from which these findings derive, has worked with over eleven thousand patients across 175 NHS hospitals. It compared patients who were given a 6mg dose of the steroid with those who received NHS care alone.

“This is the most important trial result for Covid-19 so far,” said Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, “Significant reduction in mortality in those requiring oxygen or ventilation from a widely available, safe and well-known drug . . . It will save lives around the world.”

The drug works particularly well for those who are most seriously ill. It is thought to cut deaths among patients on ventilators by a third and by those who required oxygen by a fifth. It was not, however, shown to work on patients who did not need help breathing. It is perhaps for this reason that Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific officer, struck a cautious tone when he described the breakthrough as ‘the start of something important.’ 

Photo by Stefan Heesch on Unsplash

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Authored by

William Winter
June 17 2020

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