Ministry of Health spends N$3m on COVID-19 drug …as WHO cast doubt over its effectiveness

Andrew Kathindi

The Ministry of Health and Social Services has spent N$3 million on procuring Remdesivir, the experimental drug used as a last ditch treatment for COVID-19 patients in extreme conditions.

Although the ministry has announced that it will be halting further purchases stating that they have enough stock, Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula however, said the government would still purchase the drug should the need arise.

“COVID-19 has not gone away, patients still need the medication,” he told Windhoek Observer.

The minister’s position comes as a World Health Organization (WHO) study recently cast doubt on the effectiveness of the drug.

Remdesivir, the drug which was originally manufactured to fight Ebola by Gilead Sciences Inc was tested on over 11,000 patients battling COVID-19, along with hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir, an antiretroviral of the protease inhibitor class used against HIV infections and interferon-beta1a.

Interferon is an immune system chemical that triggers the body’s antiviral defenses.

All four drugs were found to be ineffective in reducing the mortality rate of COVID-19 patients. All of these drugs have been discouraged as ‘treatments’ or ‘cures’ for the pandemic.

Gilead Sciences Inc, whose financial interests are tied up in the drug, has, as expected, dismissed the WHO study on Remdesivir.

“We don’t have as many seriously ill patients as we expected and therefore, we may not need as much of that particular treatment as we anticipated. We have sufficient stock. Remdesivir is only to be used for the severely sick,” Health Ministry’s Dr Theo-Ben Kandetu told Windhoek Observer.

Kandetu said that despite the WHO’s study, the Ministry is sidestepping that science and insisting that the Remdesivir remains beneficial.

“Their findings are preliminary. The studies conducted are still going through peer review. The evidence we have is that we must continue the course; Remdesivir is still beneficial. Until such a time as information comes out that it is no longer beneficial, or until the center for disease control (CDC) change their opinion on it. We have to wait until the studies are concluded.”

Kandetu’s statement comes as the CDC previously threw its weight in support of Remdesivir and dismissed claims that the antiviral drug was being used in Namibia on a clinical trial basis with our citizens as test cases.

Kandetu further said that in light of recent talks of vaccine on the horizon, once in Namibia, Remdesivir will continue to be used on a supplementary basis with the vaccine.

“We are part of the Covax Facility which enables us access to the vaccine when it is made available. When it is out, we may not have enough vials for everyone as we will prioritise the most vulnerable in the population. Remdesivir will still be used for treatment.” Other countries have stated that front line COVID healthcare workers will receive the first supplies of the new vaccine, followed by those who are most vulnerable, including the elderly.

Physician Specialist in the Health Ministry, Ishmael Katjitae also previously stated his support for the controversial drug. He has anecdotal observations only.

“I have administered the drug to some patients and I have really seen improvements. One of them was a 50-year-old woman who was in a severe condition. She could not breathe on her own without assistance from the machines. She took the medication and has been out of ICU. Another patient came in with typical COVID-19 symptoms and after three days of giving them Remdesivir, the symptoms started to disappear,” Dr Katjitae previously told Windhoek Observer.

This comes as the country has thus far recorded 13,566 COVID-19 cases and 140 deaths. Shangula reported that of the current 284 active cases, four are in severe to critical condition.

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