Cheap steroid hailed as lifesaver COVID-19 treatment

Cheap steroid hailed as lifesaver COVID-19 treatment
A pharmacist holds a box of dexamethasone tablets at a chemists shop in London on June 16, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2021

Cheap steroid hailed as lifesaver COVID-19 treatment

Cheap steroid hailed as lifesaver COVID-19 treatment
  • Scientist: ‘It’s clear that dexamethasone has had a big impact’
  • UK’s National Health Service estimates 1 million lives saved globally

LONDON: Dexamethasone, a cheap steroid, has been hailed as a lifesaver in the fight against COVID-19, with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) saying it has saved the lives of an estimated 1 million people globally.

The world’s largest randomized COVID-19 drug trial commenced in March 2020 to evaluate the suitability of a suite of different drugs to help hospitalized patients with the virus.

Just under 100 days after the program commenced, it found that dexamethasone — a cheap, widely available generic steroid — was shown to cut the risk of death by a third for COVID-19 patients on ventilators, and by almost a fifth for patients requiring oxygen therapy.

“It’s clear that dexamethasone has had a big impact,” said Peter Horby, an infectious disease specialist at Oxford University.

The latest estimates on lives saved by the drug are understood to be based on a study published in the journal Nature Communications in February, which assessed that some 12,000 lives in Britain would have been saved by the drug between July and December 2020. 

The researchers said if this was applied globally, it would translate to about 650,000 lives saved over the same period.

Dr. Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals in England, said: “As the science progresses at pace, this is a good lesson for how we can turn cutting-edge research into prompt action to best respond to the next phase of the pandemic, including supporting people who experience long-term symptoms from the disease.”


Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero
Updated 2 min 34 sec ago

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero

Life sentence sought for ‘Hotel Rwanda’ hero
  • Former manager of Kigali’s Hotel des Mille Collines was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood film

KIGALI: Prosecutors in Rwanda on Thursday sought a life sentence for “Hotel Rwanda” hero and government critic Paul Rusesabagina, who is charged with terrorism in a trial denounced as political by his supporters.
“We have showed that every act by Rusesabagina was criminal in nature with the intent to commit terrorism,” said prosecutor Jean Pierre Habarurema, during a seven-hour hearing.
“We therefore request that he is given the maximum sentence provided for by the law, which is life imprisonment.”
The former manager of Kigali’s Hotel des Mille Collines was made famous by the 2004 Hollywood film that told how he saved more than 1,000 people who sheltered in his hotel during the genocide, a decade earlier, in which an estimated 800,000 died, most of them ethnic Tutsis.
Rusesabagina, a Hutu, subsequently became a prominent and outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame and has lived in exile in the US and Belgium since 1996.
Kagame’s government accuses him of supporting the National Liberation Front (FLN) rebel group which is blamed for a series of gun, grenade and arson attacks in 2018 and 2019 that killed nine people.
Rusesabagina has denied any involvement in those attacks, but was a founder of the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), an opposition group of which the FLN is seen as the armed wing. He faces nine charges, including terrorism.
“As a leader, sponsor and supporter of MRCD/FLN, he encouraged and empowered the fighters to commit those terrorist acts against Rwanda,” said Habarurema.
“Even if he did not actively take part in these attacks, he is considered as one who played a role by simply being a sponsor to these fighters.”


Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study
Updated 41 min 58 sec ago

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study

Classic COVID-19 symptoms changing: UK-led study
  • Headache now most common symptom
  • Time to update list of classic symptoms: Expert

LONDON: A leading British scientist has said it is time to update the list of “classic” COVID-19 symptoms, after research found that a headache and sneezing are now among the most common signs of the disease.

Prof. Tim Spector is co-founder of the ZOE COVID symptom study, which draws on global contributors to report their symptoms once they test positive for the virus. It is the world’s largest study into the symptoms of COVID-19.

Spector said a headache now tops the list of most common symptoms, with 60 percent of people who test positive experiencing one.

A runny nose and sore throat are also “going up that list,” he added, and sneezing is now fourth, though it is often confused with hay fever.

Of the original “classic” symptoms, only a persistent cough remains in the top five, with fever and loss of smell dropping to ninth and seventh place respectively.

These developments, Spector said, mean governments must update their guidance. “We do need a much broader flexible approach to this as the virus changes and the populations change,” he added.


Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad
Updated 56 min ago

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad

Philippines raises cap on health professionals going abroad
  • The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 health worker deployments late last month

MANILA: The Philippines has increased the number of nurses and health care workers allowed to go overseas to 6,500 annually, a senior official said on Friday, amid high demand for its health professionals.
The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 health worker deployments late last month.
Those with contracts as of May 31 can take up overseas employment, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement. That means another 1,500 nurses and health care staff can work abroad, according to the labor ministry.
The labor minister on Wednesday said he would seek approval to allow 5,000 more health care workers to be deployed abroad, but a nurses’ group said there were many more than that hoping to find jobs with better pay abroad.
Health workers under government-to-government labor deals, such as that with the United Kingdom, are exempted from the new cap.
Roughly 17,000 Filipino nurses signed overseas work contracts in 2019, but the Philippines put a temporary halt on that in 2020, to shore-up its health sector as coronavirus hospitalizations rose sharply.
Jocelyn Andamo, secretary general of the Filipino Nurses United, said the additional 1,500 was frustrating.
“It is very unrealistic compared with the huge need for nurses,” she said.


India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts
Updated 18 June 2021

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts

India should brace for third COVID-19 wave by October, say health experts
  • So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population

BENGALURU: A third wave of coronavirus infections is likely to hit India by October, and although it will be better controlled than the latest outbreak the pandemic will remain a public health threat for at least another year, according to a Reuters poll of medical experts.
The June 3-17 snap survey of 40 health care specialists, doctors, scientists, virologists, epidemiologists and professors from around the world showed a significant pickup in vaccinations will likely provide some cover to a fresh outbreak.
Of those who ventured a prediction, over 85 percent of respondents, or 21 of 24, said the next wave will hit by October, including three who forecast it as early as August and 12 in September. The remaining three said between November and February.
But over 70 percent of experts, or 24 of 34, said any new outbreak would be better controlled compared with the current one, which has been far more devastating — with shortage of vaccines, medicines, oxygen and hospital beds — than the smaller first surge in infections last year.
“It will be more controlled, as cases will be much less because more vaccinations would have been rolled out and there would be some degree of natural immunity from the second-wave,” said Dr. Randeep Guleria, director at All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
So far, India has only fully vaccinated about 5 percent of its estimated 950 million eligible population, leaving many millions vulnerable to infections and deaths.
While a majority of health care experts predicted the vaccination drive would pick up significantly this year, they cautioned against an early removal of restrictions, as some states have done.
When asked if children and those under 18 years would be most at risk in a potential third wave, nearly two-thirds of experts, or 26 of 40, said yes.
“The reason being they are a completely virgin population in terms of vaccination because currently there is no vaccine available for them,” said Dr. Pradeep Banandur, head of epidemiology department at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.
Experts warn the situation could become severe.
“If children get infected in large numbers and we are not prepared, there is nothing you can do at the last minute,” said Dr. Devi Shetty, a cardiologist at Narayana Health and an adviser to the Karnataka state government on pandemic response planning.
“It will be a whole different problem as the country has very, very few pediatric intensive care unit beds, and that is going to be a disaster.”
But 14 experts said children were not at risk.
Earlier this week, a senior health ministry official said children were vulnerable and susceptible to infections but that analysis has shown a less severe health impact.
While 25 of 38 respondents said future coronavirus variants would not make existing vaccines ineffective, in response to a separate question, 30 of 41 experts said the coronavirus will remain a public health threat in India for at least a year.
Eleven experts said the threat would remain for under a year, 15 said for under two years, while 13 said over two years and two said the risks will never go away.
“COVID-19 is a solvable problem, as obviously it was easy to get a solvable vaccine. In two years, India likely will develop herd immunity through vaccine and exposure of the disease,” said Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland and international scientific adviser, Global Virus Network.


UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar
Updated 18 June 2021

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar

UN proposal seeks arms embargo and democracy in Myanmar
  • Draft resolution condemns deadly violence by security forces and calls on the junta to unconditionally release those in arbitrary detention

UNITED NATIONS: The UN General Assembly is expected to approve a resolution calling on Myanmar’s junta to restore the country’s democratic transition and for all countries “to prevent the flow of arms into Myanmar,” diplomats said.
The draft resolution also condemns deadly violence by security forces and calls on the junta to unconditionally release the ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint “and all those who have been arbitrarily detained, charged or arrested.”
The 193-member assembly is scheduled to consider the resolution, which has more than 50 co-sponsors, on Friday afternoon and its sponsors are hoping it will be approved by consensus to send a strong message to the military of global opposition to its Feb. 1 takeover and support for a return to Myanmar’s democratic transition, though any nation can call for a vote.
The draft resulted from negotiations by a so-called Core Group including the European Union, many Western nations and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN, which includes Myanmar.
A UN diplomat said there is an agreement with ASEAN to seek consensus, but what will happen with ASEAN members if there is a vote remains unclear.
The resolution’s approval would mark one of the few times that the UN’s most representative body expressed itself against a military coup and called for an arms embargo.
Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae, a member of the Core Group, said Thursday that everyone has been working hard “to reach a broad consensus” on the text, and discussions were still under way on whether it would be approved by consensus or be put to a vote.
Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.
As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. Her party was reelected by a landslide in November elections, but the military contends the vote was fraudulent and took over before the new Parliament was seated.
Widespread opposition to the junta’s rule began with massive nonviolent protests. After soldiers and police used deadly force to crush the peaceful demonstrations, a low-level armed insurrection has emerged in both the cities and countryside.
Last week, the UN human rights office cited credible reports that at least 860 people have been killed by security forces since Feb. 1, mostly during protests, and that more than 4,800 people — including activists, journalists and opponents of the junta — are in arbitrary detention.
Speaking of the draft resolution, Canada’s Rae said: “I think it’s a strong statement by the General Assembly about our strong opposition to what’s been happening in Myanmar, and our strong desire for a shift back to a process of attaining democracy in the country, civil and economic rights for everybody including the Rohingya.”
The draft calls on “the Myanmar armed forces to respect the will of the people as freely expressed by the results of the general election of Nov. 8, 2020. It also said the Parliament should be allowed to convene and the armed forces and other national bodies should be brought into an “inclusive civilian government that is representative of the will of the people.”
Unlike Security Council resolutions, General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but they do reflect global opinion and supporters of the draft believe it will have an impact.
Rae, a former Canadian special envoy to Myanmar, doesn’t believe the nation can return to its past isolation since people in Myanmar “have developed a taste for openness, for democracy, for participation, and for social and political rights,” he said. “And I don’t think the people are going to lose that taste. And I think that the answer is to do everything we can to sustain democracy.”