Belgium spent €4.3 million on coronavirus drug not recommended by WHO
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Belgium spent €4.3 million on coronavirus drug not recommended by WHO

Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke. Credit: Belga

Belgium has invested heavily in a coronavirus treatment that lacks a recommendation from the World Health Organisation, according to the latest reports from francophone media.

Belgian Health Minister, Frank Vandenbroucke signed a €4.3 million agreement with the pharmaceutical company Gilead for the drug Remdesivir, which has no significant effect on the chances of survival of Covid-19 patients, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), La Dernière Heure reported on Monday.

Remdesivir is a medication developed by Gilead for the treatment of Ebola virus and hepatitis C, and was thought to show promise in the treatment of Covid-19.

On 15 October, the WHO shared the conclusions of a study carried out on 2000 Covid patients, which indicated that lowering the blood pressure “does not reduce the length of hospital stays or the number of patients requiring a respirator”.

Thirteen days later, however, Vandenbroucke purchased 12,300 doses for Belgium at a price of €345  per unit (6 doses per patient being “necessary” for treatment, this brings the total to €2,100 per patient) or 4.27 million euros for a drug with reportedly similar effects to a placebo, according to Belga News Agency.

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On 20 November, five days after the announcement of the results of its study on Remdesivir, the WHO advised against the use of the drug in the treatment of all Covid-19 patients.

Asked about this, Vandenbroucke said that in mid-October the results of the WHO study were at an “intermediate” stage. And at the end of October, when he placed the order, he only took into account “the European directives”, which were not unfavourable. According to him, an American study found positive effects of the treatment. However, this study is controversial, particularly with the WHO.

A new study by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is now reportedly underway. Vandenbroucke says that if the ineffectiveness of this medicine is confirmed by this latest study, Belgium will no longer place new orders.

The WHO experts based their conclusions on an analysis of four international clinical trials comparing the effectiveness of different treatments involving more than 7,000 patients hospitalised for Covid-19.

The experts emphasised that it cannot be said at this stage that there is no benefit to be gained from re-delivery. But the fact that its effectiveness has not been proven, combined with its disadvantages, led to the organisation not recommending the drug.

The Brussels Times