The antiviral recombinant Interferon alfa 2B (IFNrec),was developed in Cuba in 1986 by the Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) and has been used as a treatment for HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis B and C, Herpes zoster or Shingles, Dengue and different types of cancers.
Interferon Alpha 2B is said to have proven effective for viruses with characteristics similar to those of COVID-19 and has been used successfully in China to effectively knock the virus from hundreds of patients at the onset of the respiratory disease. It is said to be integral to reducing the number of deaths.
Interferons are “signalling” proteins, explains Dr. Helen Yaffe of Glasgow University, an expert on Cuba. These proteins are produced and released by the body in response to infections and alert nearby cells to heighten their antiviral defences. It is not a cure or a vaccine to COVID-19, but rather an antiviral that boosts the human immune system.
However, Tufton told yesterday’s sitting of parliament that he was advised by Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie that an assessment was done, and given that the drug was not approved globally, Jamaica would not use Interferon Alpha 2B at this time.
“I can only go by the advice given to me,” Tufton told his parliamentary colleagues adding: “It is not that we have not looked at it. As you know, we have been collaborating with the Cuban government in several ways and we are very appreciative in terms of the clinical capacity that has been added to our front line against COVID,” Tufton said.
The Cuban drug is credited with preventing thousands of deaths in South Korea where out of the 8,000 infected persons, only 72 died. Germany has also bought this antiviral from the ChangHeber to fight the pandemic. Out of the 3,156 infected people, only 3 died.
Cuban drug has also been demand from several Latin American, Caribbean and European countries requesting medical aid from Cuba in order to fight the Covid-19 outbreak.
In Jamaica the disease has so far killed five persons, with another 125-testing positive within a limited testing regime.
Tufton, under pressure from the Opposition bench, yesterday reluctantly revealed that the United States last week blocked a supply of test kits destined for Jamaica. “They have acted in their interest; we have to act in our interest. In the meantime, we have had to recalibrate our strategy in order to get from other sources, and that led to some delays,” he said.
The Health and Wellness Minister said the country had enough supplies at this time, noting that the equivalent of 20,000 test kits would be arriving in the island by this weekend.
Members of the parliamentary Opposition pressed Tufton on the issue of testing, noting that the Government did not carry out assessments earlier, adding that one of the claims as to why enough testing was not done was that health workers had expressed fear to administer samples.
He admitted that national epidemiologist Dr Karen Webster-Kerr had made the declaration during a meeting of the Special Select Committee on Public Health.
“I think we do a disservice to the public health team in the field who are out there each day toiling, working hard, collecting samples, sending those samples in, and I dare say, if there is any fear, it is a fear that we all share in the society about the unknown of this virus, but it is not fear sufficient to downplay the efforts of our public health team,” he added.
The health minister said that the Government had increased its testing over the last four weeks, noting that steps were also being made to conduct rapid assessments for antibodies.
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