Paxlovid Pills Could Be ‘Game Changer’
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has inked a deal with American pharmaceutical company Pfizer to bring supplies of the antiviral Paxlovid pill to the continent.
A November 2021 study showed the pill is almost 90% effective in preventing COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk adults when administered within three days of symptom onset. Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Pfizer, African nations will receive the pills at a low cost with the company making no profit.
The Africa CDC had sought use of Paxlovid since January. The African Union’s legal department analyzed the MOU for about four months before signing the deal in early July.
“We are going to be able to make that particular treatment available to African countries,” Dr. Ahmed Ogwell Ouma, acting director of the Africa CDC, told Al-Jazeera. It was not clear when Paxlovid supplies might arrive on the continent.
During Pfizer’s 2021 study, no deaths were reported among patients who took Paxlovid, compared to 10 deaths among patients who received a placebo. Pfizer characterized Paxlovid as “a real game changer” in the battle against COVID-19.
“Given the continued global impact of COVID-19, we have remained laser-focused on the science and fulfilling our responsibility to help health care systems and institutions around the world while ensuring equitable and broad access to people everywhere,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, said in a news release.
According to Pfizer, the pill can be widely used as an at-home treatment to ease the strain on health systems and reduce infections of health care workers. Paxlovid works by blocking a key enzyme that COVID-19 needs in order to replicate. It consists of two medicines, nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, which are taken together twice daily for five days.
In March, former Africa CDC head Dr. John Nkengasong said the agency also was negotiating with American pharmaceutical company Merck to obtain supplies of its Lagevrio COVID-19 pill. A World Health Organization (WHO) panel in March approved Lagevrio for high-risk COVID-19 patients, Reuters reported.
The WHO has said that deaths from COVID-19 in Africa are expected to decrease by nearly 94% in 2022 compared with last year.
“Our latest analysis suggests that estimated deaths in the African region will shrink to around 60 a day in 2022,” WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said during a virtual news conference in June. “Last year, we lost an average of 970 people every day.”