With few vaccines, Thailand relies on Favipiravir in battle against COVID
Although most COVID-19 patients in Thailand will not be treated with Favipiravir since their symptoms are too mild, the country is still using more than 20,000 pills of this antiviral medication per day.
Favipiravir is recommended as a treatment for COVID-19 patients suffering serious symptoms such as pneumonia or with risk factors such as uncontrollable diabetes, lung problems, or old age.
Demand for the pills has soared since Thailand’s third wave of infections emerged earlier this month, says Medical Services Department director-general Dr. Somsak Akksilp. Infections in the third wave added up to 13,489 as of Monday (April 19).
“We stocked about 400,000 pills of Favipiravir at the onset of the current wave,” Somsak said, “Given that they are being used up fast, the public health minister [Anutin Charnvirakul] has instructed the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation [GPO] to order 500,000 more.”
On Sunday, celebrity medical technologist Morlabpanda shared a notice on his Facebook page @MTlikesara saying that Favipiravir pills will be immediately provided for patients requiring a three-day course and that more pills will be dispensed for patients that are prescribed a longer course.
Though the post also mentioned the additional procurement of pills by the government, concerns are growing among the public.
Somsak assured people that Thailand has enough Favipiravir to treat 1,000 patients per day until the end of May.
“We have already placed the purchase order. The additional 500,000 pills of Favipiravir will be delivered to Thailand on April 29,” he explained. As of Monday, 14,851 people were being treated for COVID-19. The death toll has reached 104 to date – with three lives lost on Monday.
Somsak said there was no shortage of Favipiravir in the market since it has mainly been used in Asia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
GPO managing director Dr. Withoon Danwiboon revealed on Monday that all 3 million tablets of Favipiravir would be imported to Thailand by May.
While Thailand has recorded the presence of the UK variant of coronavirus in just the last couple of weeks, the world is now getting worried about the ‘double mutant’ discovered in India, dubbed the India variant.
What is Favipiravir?
Developed by Japan-based Fujifilm Group’s Toyama Chemical Co Ltd, Favipiravir has been registered in Japan for influenza treatment since 2014. However, after COVID-19 emerged in China, Chinese researchers identified it as a possible treatment for the new disease.
Results over the past year suggest that the drug – also known as T-705 and Avigan – is effective in preventing serious COVID-19 symptoms. The drug takes less than an hour to be absorbed by the body, adding to its potentially life-saving properties.
This oral medication has also been used to treat yellow fever, Ebola, and foot-and-mouth disease.
While considered safe for most people, Favipiravir is not currently being prescribed for pregnant women.
Who needs it?
The Disease Control Department has prepared guidelines for medics treating COVID-19 patients. The guidelines were updated on Saturday to clarify that treatment with antiviral drugs is not necessary for asymptomatic patients. Doctors, however, have the authority to prescribe Favipiravir in all other COVID-19 cases. The guidelines also recommend Favipiravir for patients with symptoms, risk factors, multiple underlying health conditions and/or mild pneumonia.
In severe cases, the guideline recommends that Favipiravir be administered for five to 10 days depending on the condition of each patient, probably alongside lopinavir/ritonavir. Corticosteroid is also recommended.
As the number of new COVID-19 cases surges this month, the government is rushing to find more vaccines for Thais. On Friday (April 16), Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha took it upon himself to list the various vaccine brands Thailand is currently trying to procure.
Can Thailand make it?
Thailand is still unable to produce Favipiravir on its own. However, it has already successfully produced the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) for this medication.
Anek Laothamatas, the minister of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation, announced last month that this success bodes well for Thailand’s ability to rein in highly contagious diseases in the future.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk