The WHO Says It’s Time to Ramp Up the World’s Dexamethasone Supply

In a Covid-19 press briefing on Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) shared a rare bit of positive news: The cheap and widely available steroid dexamethasone has shown real promise in treating Covid-19, and now it’s time to ramp up the world’s supply.

“Although the data are still preliminary, the recent finding that the steroid dexamethasone has life-saving potential for critically ill Covid-19 patients gave us a much-needed reason to celebrate,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Last week, dexamethasone made headlines after researchers at Oxford University issued a press release about its RECOVERY Trial, which tested the steroid on 2,104 patients and had a control group of 4,321 patients who were not on the drug. Shin Jie Yong explained the findings, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, on Medium:

Preliminary results showed that the drug lowered the death risk from 40% to 28% for patients on ventilators, and from 25% to 20% for those requiring supplemental oxygen over 28 days. There were no substantial side effects. And it did not help mild Covid-19 cases without any breathing issues.

Not all the data from the trial, however, have been released, raising skepticism among some researchers.

Nevertheless, Ghebreyesus called the findings a “lifesaving scientific breakthrough” in a news release last week. In Monday’s briefing, he stressed the importance of ensuring dexamethasone would be available for those who needed it.

“The next challenge is to increase production and rapidly and equitably distribute dexamethasone worldwide, focusing on where it is needed most,” he said, noting that demand for the drug has already surged. The worldwide supplies of dexamethasone could run out if people began hoarding the drug, experts warned yesterday in Science.

“Fortunately,” said Ghebreyesus, “this is an inexpensive medicine and there are many dexamethasone manufacturers worldwide, who we are confident can accelerate production.”