Readily available steroids that cost as little as £5 (Dh25) reduce deaths of critically ill Covid-19 patients by 20 per cent, an analysis of seven trials involving more than 1,700 people found.
Researchers said 68 per cent of severely unwell patients given one of three types of corticosteroid survived compared with about 60 per cent who did not receive the treatment.
The findings support research published in June by the Recovery clinical trial at Oxford University that found the steroid dexamethasone stopped as many as one third of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospital from dying. The Recovery trial was one of the seven studies examined.
The research was co-ordinated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and analysed by an international team of researchers from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) at the University of Bristol.
Professor Jonathan Sterne, an expert in epidemiology and the deputy director of the NIHR in Bristol, said the results were consistent across the trials and showed everyone benefited regardless of age or sex.
The research looked at patient mortality over a 28-day period after treatment from some of the countries hit hardest by Covid-19 including Brazil, China, Spain, the UK and the United States.
While steroid treatment benefited all patients, the research found that those who did not need medication to control their blood pressure were most positively affected.
Professor Martin Landray, who is leading on the Recovery trial at Oxford, said steroids such as dexamethasone and hydrocortisone were readily available and cheap. Treating 12 patients with dexamethasone cost roughly £60 (Dh293), he said.
“These drugs have been around for decades, they are the sort of drugs that every medical student learns almost as soon as they open a clinical pharmacology text book,” Mr Landray said.
But he said that hydrocortisone is a not a preventive treatment but instead one for severely unwell people in hospital who needed oxygen and were suffering from complications.
Imperial College London’s Prof Anthony Gordon, a critical care consultant, said hydrocortisone could be used straight away because of its availability.
“The real advantage is that we understand now it is a class effect of the steroid, that there is more than one choice. This means that there should be better world supply, there shouldn’t be any shortages,” he said.
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the National Health Service in England, also supported the treatment.
“Just as we did with dexamethasone, the NHS will now take immediate action to ensure that patients who could benefit from treatment with hydrocortisone do so, adding a further weapon in the armoury in the worldwide fight against Covid-19,” he said.