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By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

François Lamontagne took part in a study this summer to help the World Health Organization (WHO) create a treatment guideline for patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19.

Lamontagne, a professor at the Université de Sherbrooke, who chaired the most recent recommendations issued by the WHO, determined that corticosteroids are effective when treating patients suffering from severe forms of the novel coronavirus.

“I think everyone globally, scientists, clinicians, nurses, doctors, patients mostly, and those who manage health systems, it comes as a bit of a relief, I think, to finally have positive news to share,” he said.

The university professor was part of a team of researchers conducting a meta-analysis from eight randomized clinical trials involving 7,184 participants. After pooling all of the data across several studies, the results show corticosteroids reduce the risk of death by 20 per cent.

Lamontagne stressed that this revelation only impacts those with severe symptoms. One life is saved for every 10 to 15 severe COVID-19 patients, Lamontagne explained. It might seem small, he continued, but it has a huge impact.

“It’s certainly good news. It’s interesting to have, you know, this is the first proven therapy to actually save lives. This is the first firm evidence that we have and its effectiveness here is measured in lives saved, so it’s a pretty cool outcome,” Lamontagne said.

In a phone interview with The Record, Lamontagne speculated that he was tabbed to chair the project because of prior engagements with the health organization. He collaborated with the WHO during the Ebola outbreak and other global health issues.

The WHO normally conducts a meta-analysis and builds a guideline using internal resources. However, due to the time-sensitive nature of the pandemic, they decided to outsource their work, Lamontagne explained.

“Everything is really happening at warp speed, so the fact that scientists have been able to enrol thousands of patients in studies in just a few months is really unusual and pretty amazing,” he said.

Health experts involved in the guideline process also had access to unpublished research evidence, which is bizarre but necessary, according to Lamontagne. The study derailed the professors summer plans, consuming roughly four to six weeks of his time.

But it was all worth it, he said, if it means providing the world with a helpful practice guideline. Obviously, the most important thing is discovering a vaccine, he continued, but until then, it’s equally as important to come up with a powerful deterrent for people already infected.

“Even effective vaccines aren’t 100 per cent effective,” said Lamontagne. “People will continue to contract this illness, so they will require treatments. In the ideal world you want both very effective vaccines and very effective treatments.”

He credits all of the participants in the study, as well. He told The Record that most of them came from the United Kingdom. Their publicly funded health system includes research projects, he said, which is something Canada should consider in the future.

Lamontagne added that the organization is responsible for creating an essential list of medical items to treat COVID-19. With the recommendations issued by the WHO concerning corticosteroids, member countries are expected to immediately follow suit.

“They list a number of crucial medications that member countries should stock and so in the case of this pandemic due to these recommendations member countries will stock and ensure corticosteroids are available for patients with severe COVID-19,” said Lamontagne.

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