Cambodia has arranged for the purchase of four million US-made Molnupiravir pills – enough to treat 100,000 Covid-19 patients – even though the current rate of daily infections in Cambodia remains low.

The medicine will be distributed to state hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics, according to the Samdech Techo Voluntary Youth Doctor Association (TYDA), an organisation that has been heavily involved with treating Covid-19 patients.

In a Facebook Post on December 3, TYDA said its deputy chairman of the board Pich Chanmony – who is also a member of the government working group in charge of research on medicine and medical equipment to combat Covid-19 – signed a purchase contract to buy Molnupiravir from the US-based pharmaceutical giant Merck.

TYDA said the new antiviral drug for use in treating Covid-19 was an important safeguard to help patients at risk of serious illness, which is why the government purchased enough doses to treat 100,000 people.

“This is good news for Cambodia,” Chanmony said in a Facebook post.

The contract signing for the purchase of the Molnupiravir therapeutic drug for Covid-19 patients on Friday. TYDA

Hun Sen announced the purchase of Molnupiravir on November 1, quoting a total cost of about $2.5 million.

On November 3, the Ministry of Health has authorised the emergency use of Molnupiravir which was only recently developed to treat Covid-19. The drug has been given emergency use authorisation in the US by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory agency.

Health minister Mam Bun Heng said previously that Molnupiravir is a medication taken by ingesting it in pill form and that clinical trials run in the US have strongly indicated that it is safe and highly effective for treating Covid-19 by reducing hospitalisations and serious illness by 30 to 50 per cent if taken at the early onset of symptoms.

“This medicine is permitted for use on an emergency basis due to the current Covid-19 pandemic and it will continue to be studied and evaluated as a treatment option for full-authorisation at a later date,” Bun Heng said.

Separately, World Health Organisation representative to Cambodia Li Ailan said people should not engage in speculation regarding the possible impact of the Omicron variant, though it appeared to be highly transmissible.

Ailan said there has not been enough time yet to measure its actual impact in terms of severity of disease or whether it undermines the effectiveness of existing tools. Therefore, the usual preventive measures in place for avoiding Covid-19 infection should just continue unchanged for now.

“The current Covid-19 strategy in Cambodia remains crucial to responding to new variants including Delta and Omicron. A good combination of public health measures plus vaccinations is expected to be effective for Omicron. Be ready and act responsibly for a safe and sustainable reopening,” she tweeted on December 5.