Health

WHO approves corticosteroid drugs for critical COVID-19 cases

World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday updated its advice on treatment of COVID-19 cases, by approving corticosteroid drugs for critically ill people.

The approval came as results of seven international trials found that the steroids reduce the risk of death by 20 percent.

The trials were conducted by researchers in Britain, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Spain and the United States.

The analysis – which pooled data from separate trials of low dose hydrocortisone, dexamethasone and methylprednisolone – found that steroids improve survival rates of COVID-19 patients sick enough to be in intensive care in hospital.

“This is equivalent to around 68 percent of (the sickest COVID-19) patients surviving after treatment with corticosteroids, compared to around 60 percent surviving in the absence of corticosteroids,” the researchers said in a statement.

The WHO’s clinical care lead, Janet Diaz, said the agency had updated its advice to include a “strong recommendation” for use of steroids in patients with severe and critical COVID-19.

“The evidence shows that if you give corticosteroids …(there are) 87 fewer deaths per 1,000 patients,” she told a WHO social media live event. “Those are lives … saved.”

Jonathan Sterne, a professor of medical statistics and epidemiology at Britain’s Bristol University who worked on the analysis, said the trials gave a consistent message throughout.
They showed the drugs were beneficial in the sickest patients regardless of age or sex or how long patients had been ill.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reinforce results that were hailed as a major breakthrough and announced in June, when dexamethasone became the first drug shown to be able to reduce death rates among severely sick COVID-19 patients.

Dexamethasone has been in widespread use in intensive care wards treating COVID-19 patients in some countries since then.

Martin Landray, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Oxford who worked on the dexamethasone trial that was a key part of the pooled analysis published on Wednesday, said the results mean doctors in hospitals across the world can safely switch to using the drugs to save lives.

The WHO’s updated guidance, published on its website late on Wednesday, said corticosteroids should only be used in treatment of the sickest COVID-19 patients, and not in non-severe cases, since “the treatment brought no benefits (in milder cases) and could even prove harmful”.

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