Activists are planning a national education campaign and are calling on the government for the immediate roll out of ivermectin for the prevention and treatment of Covid-19.
Ivermectin is used to treat parasites in livestock and other animals. In South Africa it is not registered specifically for human use.
The planned campaign is due to coincide with the first week of the 2021 school year and follows a recent announcement that the vaccine rollout had been stalled.
On Sunday February 7, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the halting of the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine following a new analysis that suggests the shot “provides minimal protection” against mild disease caused by the new coronavirus variant circulating in South Africa.
The government had intended to roll out the AstraZeneca shot to healthcare workers on Monday February 8, after receiving a million doses produced by the Serum Institute of India.
Meanwhile many Mitchell’s Plain residents along with many others across the country, were being injected with ivermectin, a medication used to treat many types of parasite infestations in animals.
People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) hospital manager Veronica Nel said they had been inundated with requests for ivermectin, which they use as an injectable to treat mange, an infestation of mites, and for deworming in dogs.
“We do not sell ivermectin, the animal is brought to us and we administer it,” she said.
Ivermectin comes in liquid, injectable and tablet form.
Lentegeur pharmacist Iqbal Salwary said there was no difference in the concentrate of ivermectin for human or animal use.
Mr Salwary believes that “anything that is life saving should be distributed to the public”.
“It is dose dependent and when a client hands me a doctor’s script for ivermectin, I will administer the drug,” he said.
Shabnam Palesa Mohamed, founder and spokesperson for South Africa has a Right to Ivermectin (SAHARI), said since January 20 many of their 57 000 members had already written, emailed and used social media to contact South African Health Products Authority (SAHPRA) about their desperate need for ivermectin.
SAHARI is a civil society advocacy group, campaigning for the urgent approval and efficient rollout of ivermectin in South Africa.
“Many (of their members) have made personal complaints to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC),” said Ms Mohamed.
She said they believed the requirement for section 21 (patient-by-patient) approval of ivermectin was too cumbersome.
“It takes too long for approval and it is too costly to be of any use during an emergency,” she said.
Activist Abdul Karriem Matthews, formerly from Lentegeur, is the Western Cape co-ordinator for SAHARI and executive director of the Institute For Active Citizenship and Transformation. He said the government had been ignoring their requests for the use of ivermectin as a prevention or treatment of Covid-19.
“SAHARI advocates for the informed choice under Section 27 of constitution,” he said. This part of the constitution grants every South African the right to access to health care.
The group’s planned education campaign follows a recent ruling from the North Gauteng High Court, in Pretoria, that ivermectin may be used when medically necessary, on humans.
SAHPRA, responsible for the regulation of health products intended for human and animal use, said it could be administered to patients before doctors needed to apply for the medication to be used.
Before this ruling, ivermectin could be administered following a Section 21 Access to Unregistered Medicines application for compassionate use of unregistered ivermectin for human use through the provision of Section 21 of the Medicines and Related Substances Act.
This was the result of an agreement between SAHPRA and civil rights organisation AfriForum, advocating that ivermectin developed for human use can be made available so that doctors can prescribe it for the treatment of Covid-19.
Since the start of lockdown, said Mr Matthews, people had been getting their hands on the drug on the black or white market.
“Both markets have bulk bought the product. The difference is the white market is administering it for free as a form of charity. The black market is profiting” he said.
Ms Mohamed added that as the infection and death rates rose and the country’s economy continued to suffer, “we need to focus on legal access to ivermectin and for the government and SAHPRA to wake up to the death toll that their denial and dithering creates”.
According to distributors of the drug who spoke to Plainsman on condition of anonymity, they administered it according to the patients’ weight and with some consultation with a doctor because of the “sensitive situation” at hand.
In a media statement dated January 28 SAHPRA said there was no formulation of ivermectin for human use available in South Africa. “The ivermectin being used is either for veterinary use or sourced from illegal importation.
“This widespread unregulated use of ivermectin has meant that the quality and content of the ivermectin being prescribed cannot be guaranteed,” read the statement.
It also said that without approved guidance for use, there was no standardisation or dose or indication for use.
It read: “SAHPRA has also received anecdotal reports of ivermectin replacing other proven therapies as well as reports of falsified and substandard products being sold and used as ivermectin.”