WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said demand had already surged after a British trial of the drug was publicized but he was confident production could be ramped up.
Some 2,000 patients were given the drug by researchers led by a team from Oxford University, and it reduced deaths by 35 percent among the most sickly, according to findings published last week.
“Although the data are still preliminary, the recent finding that the steroid dexamethasone has life-saving potential for critically ill COVID-19 patients gave us a much-needed reason to celebrate,” Tedros told a virtual news conference in Geneva.
“The next challenge is to increase production and rapidly and equitably distribute dexamethasone worldwide, focusing on where it is needed most,” he added.
A low-dose steroid, dexamethasone has been on the market for over 60 years and usually serves to reduce inflammation. The WHO emphasizes that dexamethasone should only be used for patients with severe or critical diseases under close clinical supervision.
“There is no evidence that the drug works for patients with mild disease or as a preventative measure, and it could cause harm,” Tedros warned.
The UN health agency boss insisted that countries with large numbers of critically-ill coronavirus patients needed to be prioritized.
But Tedros warned that suppliers had to guarantee quality “as there is a high risk of substandard or falsified products entering the market”.