The Ministry of Health has authorised the emergency use of the US-produced drug Molnupiravir which was recently developed to treat Covid-19, with the government planning to spend around $2.5 million to ensure Cambodian patients have access to the medicine.

According to the authorisation letter issued by health minister Mam Bun Heng on November 3, pharmaceutical giant Merck’s Molnupiravir is a medication taken by swallowing it in pill form and clinical trials run in the US have proven that it is safe and highly effective for treating Covid-19.

“This medicine is conditioned 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 in the letter.

The medicine will be distributed according to priorities set by the government as stated in the national medicine distribution plans, he said.

Cambodia’s Department of Drugs and Food (DDF) will lead the evaluation of the medicine and rely on the risk management plan provided by Merck and through treatment protocols established by the World Health Organisation.

The DDF’s media centre will report on and keep records of any side effects of the medicine and follow up with patients who are treated with it. They will also register the locations that it is distributed to and the patients who are treated with it.

Bun Heng also instructed all entities treating Covid-19 patients who will use this medicine to cooperate with each other and with other partners to increase their clinical management capacity in order to respond to any emergencies if there are any cases of severe side effects from the medicine.

According to Merck and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), no severe side effects were reported by any of the patients who were treated with Molnupiravir. Citing data from the drug’s clinical trial, it said the medicine instead reduced the overall incidence of hospitalisation and death for Covid-19 patients by 50 per cent compared to the placebo group.

Prime Minister Hun Sen first mentioned the purchase of this medicine back on November 1, saying Cambodia had ordered enough of the drug to treat 50,000 people at an estimated cost of $2.5 million, or about $50 per person treated.

“Previously, it cost $700 for one person but then it dropped to $50. Now, the cost is at $46 including the transportation fees, which of course we have to cover as well.

“Actually, we’ve only received around 3,000 Covid-19 patients currently but we’ll have medicine ready for treating 50,000 people. We didn’t hesitate – as soon as it became available we bought it right away.

“Despite this, I beg our people to please remain cautious. Do not let your guard down so your life won’t need to be saved by this medicine in the first place,” Hun Sen said.

Hun Sen said this US-made medicine will add to the China-produced medicines already in wide use in the Kingdom, saying Cambodia would not discriminate against any medicine based on its origins as long as it proves effective to treat the disease.

In May, health minister Bun Heng said Lianhua Qingwen capsules, which contain a formulation based on traditional Chinese medicine, were of help in treating certain respiratory symptoms of Covid-19 such as fever, muscle soreness, stuffy or runny nose, coughing, headaches and sore throats.

China donated 88,000 boxes of Lianhua Qingwen – which is said to consist of 13 natural herbs, including ephedra, an ingredient common to US-made cold medicines – to the health ministry in April.

As of November 3, Cambodia had recorded a total of 118,787 Covid-19 cases with 115,111 recoveries and 2,807 fatalities..