Off-label drugs may now be used in clinical trials in the Philippines to test for possible cures for the new coronavirus (COVID-19), the Department of Health said Monday.
The drugs—litonavir, ritonavir, chloroquine, and hydroxychloroquine--are used to treat other diseases, but will be tested by hospitals and doctors on patients as part of the World Health Organization multi-nation Solidarity Trial to see if they can help against COVID-19, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said.
Vergeire also mentioned remdesivir, lopinavir combined with ritonavir, and the last two drugs plus interferon beta.
Only recently, the US Food and Drug Administration warned about hydroxychloroquine and its adverse effects on the heart and other body parts, but Vergeire said patients will first go through screening procedures before participating in the tests.
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She said qualified patients, who must sign consent forms, will then be monitored by investigators and doctors to make sure that the treatments such as hydroxychloroquine will not be harmful.
She said the DOH is coordinating with WHO on the arrival and storage of the drugs that are part of the international Solidarity Trial.
She said 21 Philippine hospitals will take part in the trials, which will be conducted with proper guidance of a licensed doctor.
While waiting for the arrival of the shipment of these drugs, she said they may now use the drugs that are available from the HIV and malaria control programs of the DOH.
READ: 500 Pinoys join virus cure tests
World leaders have committed to hasten work on tests, drugs and vaccines against COVID-19 and to share them around the globe.
The video conference to launch what the WHO had billed as a "landmark collaboration" to fight the pandemic was attended by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
But the United States did not take part in the launch of the WHO initiative.
"We are facing a common threat which we can only defeat with a common approach," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as the virtual meeting got underway.
"Experience has told us that even when tools are available they have not been equally available to all. We cannot allow that to happen,” he said.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the objective at a global pledging effort in early May would be to raise 7.5 billion euros ($8.10 billion) to ramp up work on prevention, diagnostics, and treatment.
"This is a first step only, but more will be needed in the future," von der Leyen told the conference.
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Macron said: “We will continue now to mobilize all G7 and G20 countries so they get behind this initiative. And I hope we’ll manage to reconcile around this joint initiative both China and the US, because this is about saying: the fight against COVID-19 is a common human good and there should be no division in order to win this battle.”
Ramaphosa, chairman of the African Union, warned that the continent--with its generally poor standards of health care--was "extremely vulnerable to the ravages of this virus and is in need of support.”
Leaders from Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas also joined the videoconference, but a spokesman for the US mission in Geneva had said the United States would not be involved.
US President Donald Trump has lambasted the WHO as being slow to react to the outbreak and being "China-centric" and announced a suspension of US funding for the UN agency.
Tedros has steadfastly defended the WHO's handling of the pandemic and repeatedly committed to conducting a post-pandemic evaluation, as the agency does with all crises.
The DOH on Monday reported 70 patients recovered from COVID-19 while 10 more died as of April 27.
The latest figure brought to 932 the total number of recoveries while the death toll climbed to 511. There were 198 news confirmed cases, bringing the total to 7,777 cases.
Meanwhile, Lung Center of the Philippines administrative services head Dr. Antonio Ramos said no personnel from the hospital has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, nearly a month since it was designated a COVID-19 hospital by the DOH.
He said donations beefed up the supply of safety gear for the hospital's workers, who were given stringent protocols to follow.
With the help of donors, he said the hospital is also building an air-conditioned facility that will house workers who are reluctant to go home during the crisis.
“Because of donations, personal protective equipment, modified infrastructure and procedures, for the past 29 days, no Lung Center personnel had tested positive. This adds to the confidence of our people....We should be afraid enough to be careful, but not too afraid to lose hope," he added.
At present, the LCP official said they have more than 50 COVID-19 patients, of whom fewer than 10 have severe symptoms and need ventilators to help them breathe.
Vergeire, meanwhile, clarified that University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital is the only health institution in the country with the approved protocol to conduct convalescent plasma therapy to treat COVID-19 patients.
The UP-PGH reported that a total of 19 survivors donated blood for the collection of plasma after weeks of urging COVID-19 survivors to donate blood.
This requires donors to be at least two weeks asymptomatic and fully recovered, among other criteria.
Plasma from the blood of a recovered COVID-19 patient contains antibodies, proteins produced by the body to neutralize or destroy toxins or disease-carrying organisms.
READ: COVID-19 Tracker: Philippines as of April 27
When infused into a patient still battling the disease, it can potentially help fight the virus. It has been reportedly used in China and South Korea.
PGH renewed its call for blood donations to help save patients while a medicine is not yet available.
COVID-19 survivors who fit the criteria for donors may call 0917-8053207 (look for Dr. Sandy Maganto) or PGH Hotline, 155-200.
On Sunday, some P30 million worth of medical supplies were sent from Fujian, China to Manila.
The shipments include 20,000 personal protective equipment (PPEs); 3,000 face shields; 3,000 goggles; 100,000 gloves; 42,000 KN-95 masks; and 500,000 surgical face masks, which were bought by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian.
The donations were turned over to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Task Force COVID-19 Chief Implementer Carlito Galvez Jr.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said that as of April 24, a total of 552,808.27 pounds of cargo had been transported. The items arrived Sunday on a Philippine Air Force C-130 aircraft.
Meanwhile, two more persons were reported to have tested positive for COVID-19 in Lanao del Sur almost three weeks after health authorities reported seven cases in the province on April 6.
Three persons have died of COVID19-related infection cases in Lanao del Sur, since the national government declared a national health emergency on March 18, according to the Ministry of Health of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. With Nash B. Maulana
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