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Hope as a new Covid-19 oral antiviral treatment is launched in Africa

Health & Science


 An experimental Covid-19 treatment pill, called molnupiravir and being developed by Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP, is seen in this undated handout photo. [Reuters]

A new program to provide oral antiviral treatments for Covid-19 in ten low- and middle-income countries has been launched.

The initiative which will be a game changer in access to medical commodities by covid-19 patients will be implemented in Ghana, Kenya, Laos, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The new public-private partnership dubbed the 'Covid Treatment Quick Start Consortium' will be implemented by Duke University, the Clinton Health Access Initiative and Americares organization that will serve as the consortium’s implementing partners while Open Society Foundations, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and Pfizer will be providing financial support.

The Consortium will work closely with ministers of health in the selected countries which grapple with shortage of primary medical commodities.

This broad consortium builds on earlier commitments in May by some of the partners that announced their intent to increase access to Covid-19 testing and treatments in low- and middle-income countries.

Speaking during the launch the organisers expressed confidence that the consortium will ensure that governments in the countries involved will be able to immediately give antiviral drugs to patients most at risk if they develop Covid-19.

“High rates of chronic disease in many of these countries make patients more at risk of severe disease from Covid-19,” said Christine Squires, president and chief executive of Americares.

She added:” as well as ensuring drugs are available, the initiative will promote testing to ensure that people are diagnosed in a timely manner before symptoms worsen.”

The initiative has been kick-started with a donation by the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer of 100,000 doses of Paxlovid, an antiviral drug that prevents the coronavirus from multiplying.

Later, cheaper generic forms of the drug will be made available to the countries.

Sean Regan, director of Covid treatment access for the Clinton Health Access Initiative, part of the Clinton Foundation, said at the program’s online launch that the Pfizer drugs would “act as a bridge to low-cost generic drugs”.

“The work isn’t meant to be contained within the 10 countries outlined. We want to go further,” he said.

Paxlovid is designed to be given within five days of symptoms starting and is recommended for people at high risk of developing severe illness.

Data from WHO shows since the onset of the pandemic there are more than 603 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 6.5 million deaths.

Numerous treatments against Covid-19 have been approved. As well as antiviral pills such as Paxlovid, which prevent the virus from multiplying, patients have been administered monoclonal antibodies, which are lab-produced antibodies that act in addition to the body’s own immune response.

Many of the latest antiviral drugs have been available in wealthy nations since late last year.

As well as treatments, more than 12.5 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide,

However, data from Oxford website, states only 21 per cent of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

Gary, the president of Covid Collaborative, an assembly of organisations and experts working on Covid-19, said the first patients were likely to be administered the antiviral drugs through the program later this month.

 “We’ll be working with ministries of health to build public capability … Quick Start will ensure more just and more equitable access to these life-saving therapies,” Edson said.

Rosalind McKenna, special adviser to the Open Society Foundations said Covid-19 pandemic exposed the massive inequalities in access to vaccination and health treatment.

She added that the program would improve the ability of countries to organise treatments themselves, multiplying the benefits.

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