Covid-19 patients put faith in illegal drug

Animal antiparasitic is being used by doctors and citizens

10 January 2021 - 00:00
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) has prohibited a drug for human consumption after it emerged on social media that it was being promoted as having "cured" people of Covid-19.
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) has prohibited a drug for human consumption after it emerged on social media that it was being promoted as having "cured" people of Covid-19.
Image: 123RF/Alexander Raths

Each time Kouthar Davids swallows ivermectin to soothe her aching body while recovering from the ravages of Covid-19, she is flouting regulations because the drug is deemed unfit for human consumption in the treatment of the virus.

But for the first time in about a month the Cape Town conveyancing paralegal is finally feeling relief from debilitating migraines, body aches and nausea. She claims it is due to the antiparasitic medicine, which is used on livestock but is increasingly being used by people around the world to combat the effects of Covid-19.

However, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) prohibited the drug for human consumption last month after it emerged on several social media platforms that it was being promoted as having "cured" people of Covid-19.

Sahpra warns that the drug's side effects include rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pains, dizziness, limb swelling and liver injury.

Davids, 26, spent over a week receiving oxygen in hospital after she contracted Covid-19 pneumonia, and continued to experience harsh symptoms after she was discharged.

"I decided to use myself as a guinea pig because I could not bear the Covid-19 symptoms anymore."

After taking 1.6ml of the drug in liquid form twice this week, Davids, who is documenting her experience on video, said she was "feeling better each day".

"I'm not afraid . the truth about what works during a pandemic needs to be told to our people."

Ivermectin, which was hailed as a revolutionary drug in the 1980s and works by paralysing and killing parasites, including lice and worms, in livestock, has been gaining traction as a "miracle cure" for Covid-19.

Some experts suggest that the drug inhibits viral loads in people who have tested positive for the virus and keeps those with early symptoms from progressing to the hyper-inflammatory phase of the disease and even helps critically ill patients recover.

National Freedom Party MP Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam and a group of scientific and medical experts known as the Ivermectin Interest Group (IIG) have separately thrown their weight behind a call for it to be studied and considered for human consumption in SA.

Andrew Hill snr, an academic and World Health Organisation (WHO) researcher, recently reported at an international ivermectin conference that a meta-analysis of data from the first 11 randomised controlled trials pointed to a "promise of ivermectin as a low-cost, widely available therapy potentially useful in Covid-19".

As pressure mounts on Sahpra and the government - including the threat of court action to legalise ivermectin - the regulatory body and police have cracked down on those suspected of dispensing and supplying it.

A 43-year-old man was arrested at King Shaka International Airport in Durban on Wednesday for allegedly trying to smuggle over 2,400 ivermectin tablets in his hand luggage, while the city's Ahmed Al-Kadi Private Hospital was raided after Sahpra received information that the drug was allegedly being dispensed at the facility.

Sahpra said while it had not received applications for either clinical trials or for the registration of ivermectin for the treatment or prevention of Covid-19, it encouraged "well-designed, ethically approved scientific studies" and was committed to expediting the review of such studies.

"Sahpra will also consider enabling access to approved formulations of ivermectin for human use, including through section 21 authorisation, provided such a request is supported by evidence for the indication requested and is justified based on risk benefit assessment that includes safety and clinical efficacy data."

Ivermectin being illegal has created a black market, with doctors and citizens clandestinely accessing the drug, either in tablet or liquid form, for up to R950 a tablet or R3,000 for 3ml.

According to a Cape Town supplier who spoke to the Sunday Times on condition of anonymity, the drug is being sourced mainly from veterinarians and horse breeders. The supplier sometimes provides it free of charge to those who cannot afford it, and has taken three doses of liquid ivermectin himself as a "preventative measure".

He did not reveal how much he charges but said he accepted donations to procure supplies. "If people can't afford it, I still send it to them. It's about saving lives."

He said he had supplied over 1,000 people, including doctors and pharmacists, in two weeks.

Ravi Maharaj, a clinical nursing specialist at a KwaZulu-Natal state facility, is also using ivermectin for himself and his family as a form of prevention.

"I have had first-hand experience with a doctor colleague who contracted Covid, used ivermectin and was back at work within six days."

Amos Masango, head of the South African Pharmacy Council, said the body was investigating complaints against pharmacists dispensing the drug and those found guilty would face disciplinary action.

The South African Medical Association's Mvuyisi Mzukwa said the body was aware of doctors using ivermectin.

"This is very dangerous. When things are going well, it's well and good, but when things turn for the worse . like adverse effects, how do these doctors defend themselves because Sahpra has not approved it?"

University of KwaZulu-Natal health-care scientist Prof Colleen Aldous, who is part of IIG, said: "We are hoping that with the addition of more trials this month . there will be enough meta-analysis data for the WHO to make a statement on the use of ivermectin in Covid-19 treatment."


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