The legal battle over the use of anti-parasitic drug, ivermectin, to treat Covid-19 expanded on Tuesday morning as other interested parties joined the fray.
The original court case brought by a Pretoria-based doctor, George Coetzee and lobby group AfriForum against the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) and the minister of health. They were asking the court to make several declaratory orders over the use of the drug. It was postponed to a date yet to be confirmed date.
This because of another urgent application brought by the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and with Doctors for Life – a group of about 50 doctors – seeking to join the original case.
However, some specific legal aspects or rather, points in limine as they are called, relating to this second application will first be heard on Thursday.
The parties’ lawyer appeared before Pretoria High Court Judge Peter Mabuse on Tuesday morning seeking to consolidate the two applications over the use of ivermectin. It was agreed that they approach the court’s acting deputy judge president for another date to hear the matter.
The ACDP’s application was lodged last Wednesday, on the same day Sahpra announced it would allow a “controlled, compassionate” access to the drug through its section 21 authorisation platform.
A section 21 authorisation, through the Medicines and Related Substances Act, allows for the body to authorise the sale of an unregistered medicine for a certain purpose and for a specified period.
The ACDP wants all doctors are able to prescribe the controversial drug.
“We will be seeking various orders, including removing any and all restrictions on the use of the drug in South Africa, provided it has a been prescribed by a registered medical doctor. As well as an order declaring that the failure by Health Minister Dr [Zweli] Mkhize, and Sahpra to ensure that ivermectin is accessible to all those who need it is, inconsistent with the Constitution and invalid,” the party said.
“At a time when Covid-19 is spreading rapidly, it is deeply concerning that medical doctors have been unable to prescribe ivermectin when treating Covid-19 patients.”
The use of ivermectin, a drug traditionally used as an anti-parasitic for livestock, to treat and prevent severe Covid-19 symptoms has polarised the medical fraternity.
While some international studies have shown promising results of the drug inhibiting viral loads and how it kept those with early symptoms from progressing to more severe Covid-19, some local doctors have emphasised the need for caution.
This on the back of Sahpra receiving reports that illicit ivermectin products were entering the local market and that veterinary products of the drug are also being used in humans, which was particularly worrying and potentially dangerous.
Ivermectin is currently not registered for human use in South Africa, save for the occasional section 21 grants by Sahpra for doctors to prescribe the medical drug to individual patients to treat scabies or head lice.
Proponents for its use, including AfriForum and Dr Naaseba Kathrada of Durban, have slated Sahpra’s new guidelines on ivermectin. They argued that the section 21 application process was a laborious and expensive and would be prohibitive for many wanting to use the drug as a matter of urgency.