The Russian Health Ministry has said that dexamethasone, an inexpensive and widely available steroid that has been touted by the World Health Organisation as a "breakthrough" drug to treat the novel coronavirus, is not a silver bullet against the infectious disease, which has claimed the lives of more than 430,000 people across the world. Sergei Avdeev, head of pulmonology at the ministry, said that dexamethasone is used to treat a range of inflammatory diseases, including pneumonia, and has been used by doctors for several decades.
"Indeed, it helps a certain group of coronavirus patients who have acute inflammation. The latest recommendation on prevention and treatment of coronavirus advises prescribing glucocorticosteroids, including dexamethasone. Many hospitals in Russia have already been using it. In some cases it helps, but in other cases it does not", said Avdeev.
Earlier today, WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus congratulated the University of Oxford and the British patients who contributed to the scientific breakthrough. Clinical trials have shown that dexamethasone reduces the risk of death for patients on ventilators by a third and for those on oxygen by a fifth.
Until now, the only drug that has been known to help coronavirus patients is remdesivir, which is used to treat Ebola. Remdesivir reduces the duration of coronavirus symptoms from 15 days to 11, but there is no evidence that it reduces the mortality rate.
Commenting on the Oxford University study, chief investigator Professor Peter Horby said: "This [dexamethasone] is the only drug so far that has been shown to reduce mortality - and it reduces it significantly. It's a major breakthrough".