Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: GCIS
Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: GCIS

Health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Thursday that the latest Covid-19 treatment breakthrough‚ which found that the steroid dexamethasone can be used to save lives‚ will be of great benefit in the country’s fight against the coronavirus.

“This drug has been with us for a long time‚ but what is good is that there is now evidence that it is definitely helpful and for that reason we are quite excited,” Mkhize said.

“We have received a report from Oxford University that indicates about one third of the people on ventilators and 20% of those on oxygen tend to do much better [with the drug]. For us that is good news because at least we have something that has been proven‚ so we really hope it is going to help us reduce the numbers of people who succumb to the infection.” 

Mkhize was speaking on the SAfm Sunrise show with Stephen Grootes. He said protocols are being updated in hospitals to allow doctors to make use of the drug.

Now it has been found to be beneficial in the fight against Covid-19‚ doctors do not need permission to use the drug but should know when to use it‚ Mkhize said. 

He told SAfm that dexamethasone is easily accessible in SA and that steroids are used for treating autoimmune diseases in the country. “We believe it is going to be very helpful to confront the virus.”

Mkhize said the lockdown bought the health sector “some time” to add additional hospital beds. “We are able to handle the numbers as predicted‚ but now the numbers have increased from the original plan we had. We have asked all the provinces to push up the numbers of beds.”

According to Mkhize‚ only about 2‚000 people have been admitted to hospital, while the country had prepared more than 27‚000 beds. “We are also procuring ventilators and have recruited additional staff.”

He said health professionals are “largely on course” and nurses have been provided with enough personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We always said that no health professional must see a Covid-19 patient without adequate training and protection gear. Mistakes will happen because we are dealing with a large number of people‚ and when they happen‚ they need to be reported and we will correct them.”

Addressing the nation on Wednesday night‚ President Cyril Ramaphosa said there is an ample supply of dexamethasone in the country. He believes it will improve the country’s management of the disease among those who are severely affected.

Ramaphosa also announced the easing of restrictions on restaurants for sit-down meals‚ accredited and licensed accommodation‚ conferences and meetings for business purposes‚ cinemas and theatres.

Ramaphosa said casinos and personal care services‚ such as hairdressers and beauty salons‚ will be open for business. Non-contact sports, such as golf‚ cricket and tennis, will also be permitted. He said a date for the easing of restrictions has yet to be announced.

Mkhize said the easing is important to allow the country’s economy to recover‚ with the economy and social activities needing to be reactivated. “If you put too much strain on restrictions, you are going to end up with people dying of other causes of death, such as malnutrition and the impact of other diseases.”