KUALA LUMPUR – “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it.”
This was a tweet by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month, amid reports that some people were using the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin – normally used to treat animals – as a cure for the coronavirus.
Like the US, other countries such as Malaysia, India and Indonesia have also reported the use of the drug against Covid-19.
In Malaysia, where incidents of ivermectin poisoning have been found, health authorities and experts have warned against human consumption of the drug.
“Anecdotally, there is definitely an increase in the availability of ivermectin within the community,” respiratory physician Helmy Haja Mydin told The Straits Times.
“In times of desperation, people would naturally reach out for apparently miraculous treatments. The common misconception is that ivermectin is safe for use irrespective of the dose taken, and depending on who you talk to, it can either prevent or cure Covid-19,” said Dr Helmy, who is also chief executive of the Social and Economic Research Initiative think-tank.
The World Health Organisation has warned that current evidence on the use of ivermectin is inconclusive and that it should be used only within clinical trials.
However, a non-governmental group of six medical and consumer-related organisations, called the Malaysian Alliance for Effective Covid Control, claims that the drug can be used to prevent and treat the virus, despite the lack of scientific data.
But Dr Helmy said: “Unfortunately, it is not without potential side effects, and there is no strong clinical evidence at this point in time to suggest that it plays a role in the management of Covid-19. The situation is not helped by lobby groups that tend to consist of individuals who are not experts in the treatment of Covid-19.”
At least two known cases of ivermectin poisoning have been recorded in Malaysia – a 35-year-old who took one tablet and experienced shortness of breath for five days, and a senior citizen who was found unconscious after taking 15 tablets at one go, said the Health Ministry on its Facebook page on Aug 14.
The Malaysian Pharmacists Society and the Malaysian Medical Association have expressed concern over the widespread illegal sale of the drug and warned that anyone caught selling it to treat or prevent Covid-19 can be fined up to RM50,000 (S$16,900).
One person The Straits Times spoke to bought the drug because of the spread of the Delta variant and the high number of deaths in the Klang Valley.
“My parents are old and were really worried about getting Covid-19. I had yet to get a date for my vaccination at the time, and was getting really anxious, so I got some in case I needed it,” said the buyer, who declined to be named.