The discovery of the first life-saving drug, Dexamethasone, for critical COVID-19 patients is a breakthrough that should be celebrated. It has shown to reduce risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators, and by a fifth for those on oxygen. This means that thousands of lives can now be saved, and at low costs. Fortunately, the drug is widely available in the market at cheap rates and doctors here at home have already been using steroids to treat COVID-19. Herein lies the challenge for the government of Pakistan.

Previous incidents show that whenever there is a rise in demand, an artificial shortage is created and prices are increased manifold to rip off desperate people. Despite stern warnings, the government has been unable to control the menace. Be it Remdesivir or Tocilizumab (Actemra) or even oxygen tanks, distributors claim to be out of stock while products remain available on the black market at exorbitant rates. The same fate should not befall Dexamethasone. Government should survey the market to check availability, and if numbers justify it, it should open lines of procurement to create a sufficient stock. The number of coronavirus cases has crossed 150,000, with 2,975 deaths. While cases are rising rapidly, forcing the government to implement lockdowns of specific areas, it is hard to say with confidence when the COVID-19 trajectory will peak in Pakistan. Some say it will occur sometime in July while others estimate that it may come as late as August or September, provided the government is able to enforce SOPs.

In any case, thousands of Pakistanis will need this drug to secure a better chance at survival. Most of them will be poor. They should not be left at the mercy of profit-seeking dealers making a fortune at the black market. Governmental oversight and swift, strict action against such elements will prove critical in saving many lives. Medical research takes time. It may be years before a vaccine is created. For now, Dexamethasone is the best that there is. Let’s keep it available at cheap rates.