Biting shortage of key Covid-19 drug in Kenya to continue for months

In Kenya, health facilities have taken advantage of the global shortage to hike prices of Tocilizumab

In Summary

•World Health Organization said while it acknowledges that Roche is working to address the shortage, it must enough stocks go to poor countries.

•Roche Kenya promises to ensure supply in Kenya is stabilised. “Our people are working day and night with the aim of developing, manufacturing and supplying key tests and medicines where they are needed most," said Dr Beatrice Nyawira, medical director at Roche Kenya.

A nurse in a hospital isolation ward for Covid-19 patients.
WHERE IT'S NEEDED: A nurse in a hospital isolation ward for Covid-19 patients.
Image: FILE

The biting shortage of a key drug used to treat severe Covid-19 in Kenya may drag on for months to come, the manufacturer warns.

Tocilizumab (also known as Actemra) has been in low supply since February when trials confirmed it reduces deaths in patients hospitalised with Covid-19.

In Kenya, health facilities have taken advantage of the global shortage to hike prices with one facility charging Sh200,000 a dose. A patient requires two injections.

Yesterday, the Swiss manufacturer said the shortage could continue because spiking infections in the United States have outstripped the drug supply.

“The unfortunate reality is that due to the unprecedented surge in worldwide demand- with US demand spiking to well-beyond 400 per cent of pre-Covid levels over the last two weeks alone - we will experience shortages of Actemra/RoActemra globally over the weeks and months ahead,” Roche said in a statement.

“This is due to global manufacturing capacity limits, raw material supply constraints, the complex, labour-intensive process of manufacturing biologics and the dynamically evolving nature of the pandemic.”

The company said it is not enforcing any patents in poor countries and will support generic manufacturers.

Results of a trial conducted in the UK, in February showed that for every 25 patients treated with tocilizumab, one additional life would be saved.

For patients who were not on invasive mechanical ventilation, tocilizumab also significantly reduced the chance of progressing to invasive mechanical ventilation or death from 38 per cent to 33 per cent.

Roche and Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi are also collaborating in trial on Tocilizumab in the treatment of Covid-19 patients hospitalised with pneumonia.

“The merit of this ongoing trial has recently been validated by the recent finding by a team of clinical researchers at the University of Michigan that demonstrated that in a controlled study of 154 patients with severe Covid-19 illness requiring mechanical ventilation, tocilizumab was associated with a 45 per cent reduction in the hazard of death, despite twice the frequency of superinfection,” says Health CAS Rashid Aman.

Roche Kenya promised to ensure supply in Kenya is stabilised. “Our people are working day and night with the aim of developing, manufacturing and supplying key tests and medicines where they are needed most," said Dr Beatrice Nyawira, medical director at Roche Kenya.

World Health Organization said while it acknowledges that Roche is working to address the shortage, it must enough stocks go to poor countries.

“We also strongly encourage Roche to facilitate technology transfer and knowledge and data sharing to broaden access to this important treatment,” WHO said in a statement.

WHO confirmed Tocilizumab can play a key role in decreasing mortality and reducing need for invasive mechanical ventilation among severely ill patients, when delivered alongside oxygen and anti-inflammatory drugs.