Drug regulators and a group of health professionals and scientists are at odds over Ivermectin, a drug being used by some countries to treat Covid-19.
Claims that the drug inhibits viral loads, keeps those with early symptoms from progressing to the hyper-inflammatory phase of the disease, and that it helps critically ill patients recover, have been circulating on social media.
Now the National Freedom Party (NFP) and the Ivermectin Interest Group (IIG) — a group of clinicians, public health specialists, community health workers and medical scientists — have added their voices to a call for the drug to be made more widely available.
In South Africa, Ivermectin, which paralyses and kills parasites in livestock, has not been approved for humans.
In a statement, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) said that without clear evidence from clinical trials, they could not consider its approval, adding that “the use of such a drug could potentially lead to harmful effects or even death”.
The Department of Health also believes there is not enough evidence to suggest Ivermectin should be used in the treatment of Covid-19 patients.
A review by the therapeutic guidelines sub-committee found that the overall quality of medical trials involving Ivermectin in patients with the coronavirus was extremely low.
The results also showed, the committee said, that the drug was not more effective than existing medicines at reducing the viral load or slowing the clinical progression of the disease.
The Ivermectin Interest Group (IIG) believes, however, that the government and Sahpra have been too hasty in dismissing the drug.
In a dossier sent to the Minister of Health, Zweli Mkhize, they say all lower and middle-income countries, struggling to access Covid-19 vaccines, need to look at other options to treat patients, until a vaccination programme can be rolled out.
“The impact of the second wave is felt largely at the frontline, namely at the general practitioner, clinic and hospital level,” the group said.
“Therefore, the country must explore every possible healthcare solution for Covid-19 prophylaxis and treatment to minimise morbidity and mortality, reduce the risks to healthcare workers, and reduce immense stress on our health system.”
They want Ivermectin, which has both anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties, to be dispensed by health professionals, with strict protocols.
The IIG also wants government to make funding available to do clinical trials to prove whether or not the drug can help fight the coronavirus.
“The failure to adopt this approach will have the consequence that practitioners, in desperation and under intense pressure from patients and families, will resort to experimentation,” the group warns.
“The IIG is concerned that if some avenue is not opened for the controlled use of Ivermectin, that there may be dire consequences for patients, practitioners and the country as a whole,” it said.