Saving Lives
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THE Ministry of Health (MoH) is doing an excellent job in making vaccination available to all eligible Guyanese desirous of being vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. This is reflected in the large number of Guyanese who have already been fully vaccinated and those already in receipt of their booster shots.

Despite the best efforts of the ministry to ensure a critical mass of Guyanese are being vaccinated, a significant number of Guyanese still continue to be affected with the virus, and from the look of it there appears to be some correlation between the emergence of the Omicron variant and the recent surge in infection rates. In fact, the number of Guyanese tested positive for the COVID-19 virus was the highest since the outbreak of the virus nearly two years ago, reaching 1,186 in a single day on January 13, 2022.

This is not unique to Guyana. In neighbouring Brazil, the number of COVID-cases has increased dramatically over the past few weeks, putting pressure on the healthcare system to cope with the numbers. A similar situation is taking place in North America and Europe where infection rates are surging. The World Health Organisation (WHO), in response to the growing crisis, has added two more drugs to its guidelines for recommended treatments for the virus. The drug Baricitinib, which is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, is strongly recommended for patients with severe or critical COVID-19, in combination with corticosteroids, according to a panel of international experts.

The drug reduces the need for ventilation and had been found to improve patient’s chances of survival with no evidence of any increase in adverse reactions. The panel also gave a ‘conditional recommendation’ for sotrovimab, an experimental monoclonal antibody treatment for those with non-severe COVID-19 but at the very highest risk of hospital admission. Monoclonal antibodies, are lab-created compounds that mimic the body’s natural defence mechanism, according to experts.

The new treatment recommendations come at a time when the pandemic is showing signs of acceleration. More than 15 million new cases of the COVID-19 virus were reported to the WHO in just one week, by far the most in any week since the outbreak of the virus, driven by the Omicron variant which is replacing the Delta variant almost everywhere.

These are indeed some encouraging news. The drug Baricitinib is produced in the United States and generic variants are available in India and Bangladesh. It is expected that the drug will be made available to other countries soon, especially those in the developing world where high-level intensive care are extremely limited. The situation is further compounded by the lack of adequate storage capacity for the vaccines. According to UNICEF, more than 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were rejected in December last while 681 million shipped doses remain unused in about 90 countries due to short shelf-life. This is all the more unfortunate given the fact that just around eight per cent of the eligible population was vaccinated in the poorer countries as compared to 67 per cent in the richer nations. A significant number of those unused vaccines were donations from the COVAX facility.  Wealthy countries donating vaccines with a relatively short shelf life has been a major problem for COVAX, according to a source.

There are, however, some encouraging news. Only recently, a number of new oral treatments were approved by the relevant authorities including Pavlovid, Pfizer’s antiviral pill which showed close to 90 per cent efficacy rates in terms of prevention of hospitalisations from the COVID-19 virus including the Omicron variant, especially among high-risk patients.

Guyana, unlike many other countries, especially in the developing world, are doing well in terms of hospitalisation rates and according to the Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, the ministry is well prepared to deal with any upsurge as a result of the new Omicron variant. The need however, for Guyanese to be fully vaccinated, cannot be downplayed especially in light of rising infection rates. And, as pointed out by the WHO, allowing the virus to spread through populations of any age or health status will lead to unnecessary infections, suffering and death.

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