JOHANNESBURG, 7 April 2021 – A court in South Africa has ruled in favor of the use of an anti-parasitic drug as part of a cocktail of treatments for COVID-19.
The High Court in Gauteng handed down the ruling after agreeing with the arguments made by advocates of its emergency use authorization that the only matter in dispute is the quality of studies into the effectiveness of the drug.
The drug, Ivermectin, has been touted as effective in treating patients infected with the new coronavirus, but trials have produced mixed results so far.
South Africa’s medicines regulator, SAHPRA, which only recently licensed the drug to treat animals, had expressed concerns over the lack of sufficient evidence.
The ruling, handed down in favor of four advocacy groups and a number of South African medical doctors who took the matter to court, effectively grants the drug emergency use authorization.
The groups and medics argued that they had seen some positive results when the drug was used on patients in a critical condition.
The head of the intensive care unit at Durban’s George Mukhari Academic Hospital, Dr. Nathi Mdladla, who supported its emergency use authorization, celebrated the ruling as a victory for patients facing death.
Doctors cited anecdotal evidence that the drug can alleviate some of the worst effects of COVID-19 to justify its unauthorized use.
Demand for the drug has skyrocketed in the black market in South Africa where the drug’s price has soared 15-fold from about four U.S. dollars per pack of ten pills to $60 for the same pack.
Dr. Mdladla admits that the use of Ivermectin was in despair.
“People were dying and doctors were looking at many treatment options to try and save lives. Ivermectin was one of the drugs doctors repurposed,” Mukhari told the BBC during a recent interview.
Despite the court ruling, South Africa’s medical regulator, the drug’s manufacturer, and some of the country’s most eminent scientists warned Wednesday against using the drug to treat coronavirus.
The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has denied rumors that it “buckled under pressure” after court action was brought against it by AFRIFORUM.
“SAHPRA wishes to state unequivocally that this is not the case,” the regulator said in a statement on Wednesday.
The statement added that the court order reiterated the position that SAHPRA had communicated last month.
At a press briefing last January 27, the regulator said it wanted the drug available for “controlled compassionate use”.
SAHPRA chief executive Dr. Boitumelo Semete-Makhkotlela said the body had noted the limited treatment options for the COVID-19 pandemic but said its focus was the health and well-being of the South African public.
“SAHPRA had several meetings and consultations with the scientific and medical community to explore the options for controlled, monitored access to reliable quality ivermectin-containing products for human use with simple but essential reporting requirements”.
With more than 53,000 people dead from the virus in South Africa and thousands newly-infected every day, both patients and relatives caring for them have been desperate for “anything” that can stem the fast-rising death toll.
The suspension or slowing down of South Africa’s vaccination campaign only added to the concerns, fears, and pressure on medics to “find anything” capable of alleviating the suffering of dying patients.
Last December, South Africa’s drug regulator, SAHPRA, prohibited the use of the drug on humans, urging doctors to get approval through a special “compassionate use” application that allows an unauthorized drug to be prescribed in dire situations.
As of Wednesday, South Africa has confirmed 1.55 million cases of COVID, with 53,032 fatalities and 1.48 million full recoveries, according to the latest data by the country’s health ministry, the World Health Organization, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) and Johns Hopkins University Hospital.