ISLAMABAD

Pakistan will continue using dexamethasone to treat critical novel coronavirus patients, the country’s top health official said on Wednesday as its ally fatalities hit another record high.

Researchers in the UK announced a day earlier that dexamethasone — a cheap and widely available drug — cuts the risk of death in severely ill coronavirus patients, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has hailed it as a “lifesaving breakthrough.”

Zafar Mirza, Pakistan’s state minister for health, said the country had ample supply of the drug and may include it in the standard treatment for COVID-19 patients on ventilators or in need of oxygen.

In a series of tweets, he said the WHO had responded positively to the new research and an expert committee in Pakistan will now consider making it part of the treatment plan.

“It is an old & cheap anti-inflammatory medicine (steroid) & we have multiple producers in Pakistan,” he said.

Mirza clarified that the medicine is only to be used for critically ill COVID-19 patients who are on ventilators or need oxygen.

“The medicine MUST NOT be used by mild to moderate patients; self-medication is strictly prohibited and can be dangerous as the medicine has many side-effects,” he warned.

The minister’s statement came after Pakistan reported its highest daily fatality count of 136, which raised the death toll to 2,975.

Another 5,839 confirmed infections took the country’s total cases to 154,760, including 58,437 recoveries.

On Tuesday, the WHO said dexamethasone had reduced mortality by about one third for patients on ventilators, and by about one fifth for patients requiring only oxygen, referring to preliminary findings of research conducted at Oxford University.

“This is the first treatment to be shown to reduce mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring oxygen or ventilator support,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“This is great news and 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.”

Dexamethasone is a steroid that has been used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in a range of conditions, including inflammatory disorders and certain cancers.

It has been listed on the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines since 1977 in multiple formulations, and is currently off-patent and affordably available in most countries, according to the global heath body.

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