DOH says experimental drugs used for COVID-19 running low

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 25 2021 09:49 PM

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) on Thursday confirmed that there is a shortage of drugs used to treat COVID-19 patients.

The DOH added that it has already allotted additional funding for its hospitals.

“The current stocks of remdesivir and tocilizumab are running low. The remaining supplies being used by select hospitals are donations from the WHO (World Health Organization),” the DOH said in a statement to media.

Remdesivir is an antiviral medication that was included in the WHO’s clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment but was later removed from the trial due to lack of evidence that it is effective. Meanwhile, tocilizumab is an anti-inflammatory drug that has been repurposed for COVID-19. It is also undergoing clinical trials abroad.

“We have enough supplies for dexamethasone. However if additional supplies do not arrive and considering the current trend of infection, supplies may only last for another 2 weeks at most,” the DOH said.

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that has been found to benefit critically ill patients. Corticosteroids are not recommended for those with non-severe COVID-19 due to its side effects, according to the WHO.

The DOH said its Disease Prevention and Control Bureau earlier budgeted P1 billion for the possible procurement of remdesivir.

“However, due to recent developments, the WHO Solidarity Trial has struck out the inclusion of remdesivir among its investigational drugs citing that it ‘had little or no effect on overall mortality, initiation of ventilation and duration of hospital stay in hospitalized patients,’” the DOH said.

Both remdesivir and tocilizumab are being used in the country under compassionate use permits given by the Food and Drug Administration. This is different from the emergency use authorization (EUA), which is required for any DOH procurement. 

“To ensure unhampered supply of COVID-19 therapeutics, the DOH will be downloading P5 million to each DOH hospital including specialty hospitals in NCR, Central Luzon and CALABARZON,” the DOH said. “This will allow our hospital to replenish their COVID-19 medicine supply.”

Concern over the limited supply of medicines has been raised by some doctors as the country is seeing a continuing surge in COVID-19 cases. Most of the cases have been detected in the National Capital Region and nearby provinces. The said areas are under additional restrictions for the next 2 weeks. 

The DOH also revealed that it might need more machines for critical COVID-19 cases.

“There are a total of 1,318 High Flow Nasal Cannula (HFNC) in private and public hospitals in NCR, more units are needed due to the surge in NCR COVID-19 cases,” it said.

High flow nasal cannula is an oxygen supply system that is said to be a better alternative to ventilator care for patients in critical condition.

The DOH said its Health Facility and Services Development Team had proposed a budget of P1.02 billion for the purchase of 2,550 units of HFNC under Bayanihan 3 that is still being discussed in Congress.

The DOH said there are currently 883 mechanical ventilators dedicated to COVID-19 patients in the National Capital Region and that only 51% are occupied or in use.

“Our hospitals in regions nearby NCR are on alert and on standby to receive patients should occupancy rates of our beds and ventilators exceed capacity,” the DOH said.

The Philippines saw a record-high in the daily tally of cases on Thursday with 8,773 additional infections.