Two people in Pietermaritzburg have ended up in intensive care after taking an overdose of Ivermectin.
The drug, which has been around since the 1970s, is being touted by many around the world as a “miracle cure” for Covid-19.
South Africa’s drugs regulator, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra), and the Department of Health have both warned people against taking it, however.
Ivermectin, which is on a World Health Organisation (WHO) list of essential medicines, has been used to treat tropical diseases, head lice and scabies.
Some scientists and medical doctors believe it could also be effective in the treatment of Covid-19.
Sahpra disagrees, saying more evidence needs to be presented before they can consider approving the drug — which is currently only used to treat livestock in SA — for use in humans.
In a statement they said “the existing studies have been far too small for regulatory authorities to have confidence that the drug is effective against Covid-19”.
The health department has said the quality of trials, involving Ivermectin in Covid-19 patients, has shown no evidence of a reduction in deaths.
Despite these warnings, people, desperate for a cure for the coronavirus, have turned to the black market. There are reports that Ivermectin, which usually costs no more than R10 a tablet, is being sold for R2 000 to R3 000.
Professor Reitze Rodseth, from anaesthetists practice Jones, Bhagwan and Partners, told Weekend Witness that two people in Pietermaritzburg overdosed on Ivermectin and landed up in ICU in May last year. He said he understands why people are willing to risk lives for a possible cure.
“They are scared, and rightly so, and so they are looking everywhere for a treatment for Covid-19,” he said.
Rodseth, who is co-ordinating teams of anaesthetists and doctors caring for Covid-19 patients in the ICU units at Netcare St Anne’s, Pietermaritzburg Mediclinic and Life Hilton, isn’t prepared to risk using it on his patients.
“I hope it does work, but I am not prepared to administer it because we have not reached the level of surety that I would want.”
His team will continue to treat Covid-19 patients with steroids, like Dexamethasone, which are known for their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects; a vitamin cocktail made up of Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Zinc and Selenium; and blood thinning medicine to prevent clotting.
Dr Peter Oberem, chief executive officer of animal health products provider, Afrivet, meanwhile, is warning people not to take animal stock remedies, containing Ivermectin.
Last week, a man was arrested at Durban’s King Shaka International Airport for trying to bring the scheduled drug into South Africa. Mohammad Rafiq, who had flown in from Dubai, allegedly had 2 464 Ivermectin tablets, worth R100 000, in his possession.
He has since appeared before the Verulam magistrates’ court charged with possession of unregistered medicines and importing medicines without a valid permit.
“We’ve had reports from the field that there is an increase in demand from various outlets for various brands of Ivermectin containing stock remedies. It is an issue,” he said. “From the spike in sales and from anecdotal evidence, I do believe that farmers are using Ivertmectin, contained in stock remedies, to prevent and treat Covid.
“As we are not involved in any way with this questionable practice I have no information or experience with the outcomes.”
Professor Collen Aldous, from the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and a member of the Ivermectin Interest Group (IIG), has condemned the black market sales of Ivermectin as “immoral”.
In an interview with ChaiFM she said the IIG wants the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra), to reconsider the ban on Ivermectin for human use.
Aldous says SA needs to start making the drug now, so that if it gets approval from the WHO, it can be administered to patients as quickly as possible. The WHO is due to meet this month to consider evidence collected by Dr Andrew Hill, a senior visiting Research Fellow in the Pharmacology Department at Liverpool University in the UK.