MINISTER of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya has announced that the country has recorded 275 new cases of COVID-19 out of 2,034 tests done with one death in the last 24 hours.

And Ministry of Health Director of Infectious Diseases Professor Lloyd Mulenga has warned that the use of hydroxychloroquine and erythromycin to treat severe cases of COVID-19 causes a higher risk of heart complications and even death.

Speaking during the daily COVID-19 briefing, Friday, Dr Chilufya expressed concern over the increased number of deaths and the threat of self-medication which he said could lead to microbial resistance.

“We are experiencing a dangerous surge in cases and in deaths and we continue to record very high numbers on a daily basis. In the last 24 hours, we recorded 275 new cases of COVID-19 out of a total 2,034 tests done. We’ve sadly recorded a death in our facility of one critically ill patient and that brings the total number of deaths to 200. 63 are covid deaths and 116 are covid related deaths. Further, we record with those 275 new cases, a cumulative number of 7,486 cases. Now, these numbers mean something, remember the government is executing a scalable plan informed by the evolution of the epidemic and as we speak today, we see a certain pattern; increased number of BIDs from the compounds, increased number of facility deaths, very sick patients in our facilities and we face the threat of self-medication and the attendant threat of antimicrobial resistance wHere we risk having medicines that we are using not working when we need them. This is a threat that must be addressed collectively,” Dr Chilufya said.

He said the Ministry was working hard to ensure that COVID-19 test results were released within 24 to 72 hours of testing.

“We need to encourage everyone to test but because of the global supply crunch and other logistical challenges, there is need for us to ensure that we prioritize testing, who we test. So under the current circumstances, testing remains a fundamental component of our response and we will ensure that we prioritize testing of everyone who is symptomatic. We will also prioritise testing of the contacts of those who are positive. We will further prioritise testing of health workers and further, our patients who have respiratory symptoms or rather that are in our health facilities. We are working closely with our partners to ensure that we streamline the process of releasing results. We hear the concerns of the public and we assure you that within due course, we will be able to streamline completely the processing of results and ensure that we have results timely. If you are in a situation where you have done a test and you are following up results, you are asymptomatic and you have done a test, isolate for 14 days. If you are in isolation for 14 days while awaiting results and you don’t develop symptoms, we will discharge you from that quarantine. We are targeting 24 to 72 hours for release of results and that’s our target,” said Dr Chilufya said.

“Testing remains the cornerstone of this cause, we need to test to find out who is positive, who is sic, we need to isolate them appropriately and ensure we stop the transmission from happening. There have been challenges with testing, there are a number of people who have been tested and are still following up results. There have been challenges in testing as in you don’t know when to get your results, where to do your tests…As we speak today, we have carried out 92,000 tests in the country and these 7,486 cases that we have depicted are out of 92,000 tests. We will need to do more.”

And Prof Mulenga warned people against self-medication.

“Well designed trials have shown that in those who have severe infection of covid, the risk of dying if someone is taking hydroxychloroquine is higher, the risk of also complications like heart effects of the drug are also higher. We’ve seen as well trials which are designed to see how can this drug work in those who have got mild symptoms, and of course the trial largely showed that there is a marginal benefit, but we don’t know, that benefit, how it translates to clinical improvement. So when we do give advice on the use of these drugs, we look at the trials which have been done but also we look at the observational data. So currently, we are not encouraging the use of hydroxychloroquine on those who are severely ill and also only in certain circumstances those with mild symptoms under the prescription of a health care provider that’s when this drug can be used. For prevention, we are not using this drug for prevention,” said Prof Mulenga.

“When you look at hydroxychloroquine and the chloroquine that’s just another form of the drug. This is a drug that we had been using before to treat malaria and honourable will remember very well that we had huge resistance to this drug and that why we moved to other drugs. This drug is also commonly used for other conditions, especially those which affect the body fighting itself, immune disorders and right now we have seen that even on the market as well in the private sector, we find that the drug which used to cost less than K30 is now being sold at more than K800 because people are abusing this drug. Now this drug of course has been associated with certain outcomes earlier on in the pandemic in China where there was better outcomes reported but trials also, those were observational studies where you are just observing people that you are giving these drugs and to see how the outcomes are.”