Doctor’s Note: Can dexamethasone treat COVID-19?

With the coronavirus pandemic tightening its grip on the world and economies grinding to a standstill, the race is on to find a vaccine. But while that could take up to 18 months, existing drugs are being fast-tracked to see if they can be effective in treating people with the disease and helping save lives.


With about 14 percent of COVID-19 patients needing to be hospitalised for respiratory problems, effective treatments are desperately needed.

In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a large global trial, called Solidarity, to find out whether any existing drugs can treat infections caused by COVID-19. Something on this scale has not been done before. The trial involves looking at scientific data from several countries, thousands of patients and hundreds of hospitals.

The idea is, instead of coming up with new drugs from scratch (which can take years), to see if drugs that are known to help with other conditions might also be effective in treating those with COVID-19.

Researchers are looking at certain drugs in particular, including lopinavir-ritonavir (also called Kaletra), used in the treatment of human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV). Other researchers have meanwhile trialled the steroid dexamethasone, which has yielded some promising results.

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