There is a painful irony in congressman Mike Defensor’s plan to distribute ivermectin, which is normally used to treat worms and parasites in animals, to COVID-19 patients and the elderly in Quezon City.
Here we have a lawmaker who represents a party-list group that advocates better health care services, promoting a treatment that both the Department of Health (DOH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say is unauthorized and unproven against COVID-19.
But Mr. Defensor will not be deterred by admonitions from the country’s top health authorities and says he got better when he took the anti-parasitic drug when he fell ill to COVID-19 in March.
“We need to hear the experts most especially the DOH and the FDA as the regulatory agencies on this matter and ask why the inflexibility against ivermectin. I took ivermectin. To be honest, I do not know if it helped along with the other meds and vitamins I took. But I am negative for the COVID-19 virus now and that is all that matters,” Defensor said.
That is really not all that matters, of course.
As the congressman himself admits, he does not know if ivermectin really helped him or if other factors led to his recovery.
So here is what we do know about the drug.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the current evidence on the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 patients is inconclusive. Until more data is available, WHO recommends that the drug only be used within clinical trials.
The US National Institutes of Health notes that ivermectin is not approved by the US FDA for the treatment of any viral infection. It also says that results from “well-designed, and well-conducted clinical trials are needed to provide more specific, evidence-based guidance on the role of Ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19.”
The DOH and the FDA said in a joint statement that they do not recommend using ivermectin for COVID-19 care, stating that existing evidence dues not support claims of its effectiveness.
The agencies cited a study of six trials conducted by the Philippine COVID-19 Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) that concluded the drug “did not significantly reduce” the risk of death in patients with moderate to severe cases.
The DOH and FDA also said that the medication did not substantially reduce the hospitalization period or time resolution of symptoms. The rate of hospital discharge was also not substantially different between the Ivermectin and placebo groups.
“Based on the current evidence from randomized controlled trials, the DOH… does not recommend the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19,” the agencies said in a joint statement.
Even the company that makes it says there is no basis for using ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19.
In a statement, Merck said analysis has shown that there is “no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against COVID-19 from pre-clinical studies; no meaningful evidence for clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with COVID-19 disease; and a concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies.”
Asked at a press conference who would be responsible if ivermectin creates complications in patients, Defensor could only say that people who receive the drug must give their consent before taking it. Hardly the kind of reassurance the public needs to take an unauthorized and untested treatment. As in all things related to health, wouldn’t it be better to simply follow the science?