Covid-19-fighting drug to be available in South Africa

Remdesivir, a drug that has been shown reduce the time to recovery of Covid-19 patients is expected to be available in South Africa soon.

Cipla, through an agreement with Gilead Sciences Inc, was granted a license to manufacture and distribute the antiviral medicine in 127 countries, including South Africa.

Citing Cipla South Africa chief executive officer, Paul Miller, BusinessDay reported that the company has earmarked an initial batch of 35,000 vials for the country, which is anticipated to arrive in the week of 20 July.

Remdesivir has not yet been registered by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra), which means it needs to be imported using a section 21 exemption to the Medicines and Related Substances Act, Miller said.

Section 21 exemptions are used for medicines that have not been thoroughly investigated by Sahpra, but have been approved by regulators in other countries.

Clinical trial

Remdesivir came to prominence in the US after a clinical trial showed that it accelerates recovery from advanced Covid-19.

Preliminary results indicated that patients who received the drug had a 31% faster time to recovery than those who received placebo.

Specifically, the median time to recovery was 11 days for patients treated with Remdesivir compared with 15 days for those who received placebo.

Results also suggested a survival benefit, with a mortality rate of 8.0% for the group receiving Remdesivir versus 11.6% for the placebo group.

In an interview with 702, Miller said that instead of only relieving the symptoms, the drug has been shown to fight the virus in the body. “This is what makes it so unique and exciting as a medication,” he said.

He said that in the US, the drug costs around $390 for a vial, with between six or 10 vials needed per patient – depending on the length of stay in hospital.

Miller said that Cipla manufactures the drug in India as an injectible, with the price coming down to $55 per vial. “We’re hoping that this is going to make the medication… affordable, and accessible.”

He said that the company is working with the health authorities to get approval to bring the product to market, adding that the drug has a very strong clinical history.

Covid-19 surge in SA

Health minister Zweli Mkhize told Parliament on Wednesday that the country is likely to run out of intensive-care unit beds within four weeks.

The scarcity of beds will come even as the number of infections, which are expected to hit a high point in August, are expected to be lower than initially projected, he said.

“The storm that we have consistently warned South Africans about is now arriving. As a nation we have every reason to be united in this fight against Covid-19,” he said.

The minister said that the Department of Health has developed and is implementing the Surge Strategy, in anticipation of the peak.

“This will ensure that the department increases capacity for Covid-19, while at the same time continuing to deliver other health services to the health care users.

“During this process, the department repurposed a total of 27,467 beds for Covid-19, which has increased to 40,309 beds as the provinces started to experience a sudden increase in the number of cases,” he said.

A new epicentre

With over 75,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases, Gauteng has overtaken the Western Cape as the epicentre with the highest number of infections, the health minister said.

As of Wednesday, the number of infections grew by 8,810 bringing to 224,665 the confirmed Covid-19 cases reported in South Africa.

A further 100 people succumbed to Covid-19.

Of the new additional fatalities, 47 were from Western Cape, 18 from the Eastern Cape, 15 from Mpumalanga, 18 from KwaZulu-Natal and two from Limpopo, taking the death toll to 3,602.

“We convey our condolences to the loved ones of the departed and thank the health care workers who treated the deceased,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, the number of recoveries is 106,842, which translates to a recovery rate of 47.5%.

Gauteng, which is now the Coronavirus epicentre, has 75,015 cases, followed by the Western Cape 73,292, Eastern Cape 42,357 and KwaZulu-Natal with 17,962 cases.

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