DURBAN – The World Health Organization just endorsed cheap, widely available steroids as a lifesaving Covid-19 treatment.
Citing evidence from a newly published trial and a meta-analysis, the WHO on Wednesday updated its guidelines for steroids. It now recommends them for severely or critically ill Covid-19 patients, such as those on a ventilator, but not for patients with milder disease.
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. Those are lives saved,” Diaz told a WHO social media live event.
Jonathan Sterne, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Bristol University and the lead author of the meta-analysis said the results were consistent across the trials and show benefit regardless of age or sex.
“Steroids are a cheap and readily available medication, and our analysis has confirmed that they are effective in reducing deaths amongst the people most severely affected by Covid-19,”Sterne said.
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 a study from the U.K found that the steroid dexamethasone was a big help.
It reduced deaths significantly among the most serious cases of Covid-19 notably people who needed ventilators or supplemental oxygen. Dexamethasone has been in widespread use in intensive care wards treating Covid-19 patients in some countries since then.
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