A dexamethasone producer in SA has sold out its stock - as demand for the Covid19 drug surges

Business Insider SA
CARDIFF, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 16: In this photo i
A box of Dexamethasone tablets.
  • There has been a dramatic increase in demand for the cheap steroid dexamethasone, which may reduce fatalities among critically ill Covid-19 patients.
  • German pharmaceutical company Fresenius Kabi, which manufactures dexamethasone injections in Port Elizabeth, has sold out and will only have supplies available by mid-July.
  • Aspen also does not have any more stock on hand of its branded dexamethasone injections.
  • South African cancer patients are also dependent on the drug, which is used in the chemotherapy treatment of almost all cancers.
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A local manufacturer of dexamethasone has temporarily run out of stock amid strong demand for the medicine.

The cheap steroid, which is available from R149 an injection in South Africa, has been hailed as a breakthrough treatment to reduce fatalities among severely ill Covid-19 patients.

Since a study by the University of Oxford  showed that dexamethasone can reduced deaths by one-third in patients on ventilators,  demand for the medicine – which is also crucial in the treatment of cancer patients in South Africa – has surged.

The global group Fresenius Kabi, headquartered in Germany, has a plant in Port Elizabeth which produces dexamethasone injections.

A spokesperson told Business Insider that there is currently “dramatically increased demand” for the medicine.

It does not have any available stock left, however additional injections have been manufactured and should be available by mid-July. The company is planning to ramp up production in line with estimates provided by the national department of health.

Fresenius is one of three local manufacturers of dexamethasone injections.

Aspen says it has also seen high demand for its brand of dexamethasone injections, and that all of the stock it had on hand has now been placed. It is now expecting additional replenishment stock from a third-party supplier.

Aspen manufactures dexamethasone tablets in a number of countries, while in South Africa it markets dexamethasone injections manufactured by a third-party supplier.

Dr Ernst Marais, chief operation officer of cancer treatment advisory service ICON Oncology, which represents more than 80% of oncologists in SA, says dexamethasone is a crucial drug used in the chemotherapy treatment of almost all cancers.

The oncologists in ICON’s network have not yet reported any shortages.

Mediclinic has stock of other steroids available, which may be used if dexamethasone supplies become restraint, says Dr Stefan Smuts, chief clinical officer of the hospital group in Southern Africa.

“Mediclinic currently has sufficient stock to meet the current demand for dexamethasone in the hospitals and are ensuring that it is used where studies have indicated it  to be effective in the treatment of Covid-19.”

Last month, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said South Africa has around 300 000 vials of dexamethasone in the country.

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