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healthcare | IST

Oral COVID drug would be useful if it's effective, safe, affordable, widely available, says WHO Chief Scientist Swaminathan

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WHO's Dr Soumya Swaminathan said there has been a decline in COVID-19 cases globally for the fifth straight week but warned that people should continue to follow COVID appropriate behaviour and not let their guard down.

The world has been battling the COVID-19 pandemic for almost two years now, and in the last 19 months over 23.5 crore confirmed cases of the infection have been reported across the world.
Just in the week gone by, the United States was the worst hit country in terms of both fresh infections and deaths. But compared to the week before, the US has seen a 23 percent drop in fresh cases and a 20 percent decline in infections.
India, which had the fifth largest tally of new cases in the world, saw a 22 percent drop in detection last week.
In terms of absolute number of vaccinations, China tops the charts claiming to have administered 204 crore doses with almost 89 crore people fully vaccinated. India is second on the list with more than 90 crore jabs being given so far and over 24 crore people being fully vaccinated.
As the world reopens for business and travel, global approvals for vaccines have become a crucial issue. The WHO’s latest status report indicates that the emergency use authorisation (EUA) process for Bharat Biotech's Covaxin should end in October. On the other hand, Russia's Sputnik V's request for EUA has been put on hold pending submission of rolling data.
Meanwhile, German pharma major Merck has said its new COVID-19 pill reduces the risk of hospitalisation and death by half for some patients. The company now plans to seek EUA in the US and submit marketing applications to other global regulators as well.
In an interview with Shereen Bhan, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at WHO, said there has been a decline in COVID-19 cases globally for the fifth straight week but warned that people should not let their guard down and should follow COVID appropriate behaviour. She also urged countries to ramp up vaccination in the African subcontinent, where only 4 percent of people have received vaccination.
"The WHO tracks data from around the world regularly and what we have been seeing is that for the fifth straight week, there has been a global decline in cases and a decline in weekly deaths. Last week, we saw 3.3 million new cases and 55,000 deaths globally. This is very encouraging and it probably also reflects the increase in vaccination programmes around the world,” Dr Swaminathan said.
She, however, cautioned: “There are parts of the world, there are some countries in Africa, South East Asia and Latin America that continue to see very high rates of new cases as well as deaths. In the past also we have seen a decline for several weeks and then a peak again. So we have to be on guard and continue with the public health measures and personal preventive measures and we also have to ramp up vaccination coverage in those parts of the world where it is still really lagging behind… particularly in the African subcontinent where only 4 percent of people have received vaccination."
She said they are extremely encouraged by Merck's development. She added that oral drug would be extremely useful especially if it is effective, safe, affordable and widely available.
"We were anxiously waiting for data from the trials of Merck's drug -- molnupiravir as well as other products which are in development. The only thing that we have had so far in terms of treatment is monoclonal antibodies, which are still not widely available and difficult to use because you have to inject them. So an oral drug which has a good antiviral efficacy is something that would be extremely useful and could be scaled up. So we are very encouraged and waiting for the company to submit more data,” Dr Swaminathan said.
“Our therapeutics guideline development group will review the data as soon as it is available and make recommendations. It is also encouraging that Merck has entered into a number of partnerships with Indian companies, so we hope that the drug is not only effective and safe but that it can also be made affordable and widely available," she added.
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