WHO: ‘Strong clinical trials’ needed to prove if ivermectin effective against COVID-19

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 05 2021 09:44 PM | Updated as of Apr 07 2021 04:17 AM

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MANILA — A World Health Organization (WHO) official on Monday warned Filipinos against using the anti-parasite drug Ivermectin for COVID-19 treatment as it is not yet proven to be effective against the illness.

During a Palace briefing, WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said various institutions such as the European Medical Association, the United States’ Food and Drug Administration and even Merck, the largest manufacturer of the said drug, issued statements clarifying that Ivermectin is not proven to be effective against COVID-19.

“Even if we look at it from preventive prospective there is no evidence that the supports it. That is why WHO came out with a very clear position that the potential use of the Ivermectin as a prophylactic or as a therapeutic agent needs to be evaluated through an equally strong clinical trials, not just the (WHO) solidarity trials,” he said.

According to the Department of Health, Ivermectin products registered in the country are for veterinary use and are only allowed for the treatment of internal and external parasites as well as prevention of heartworm disease.

The DOH also said in its statement that a systematic review of 6 randomized controlled trials showed that Ivermectin did not significantly reduce risk of mortality and duration of hospitalization among COVID-19 cases. It is also “not associated with a definite benefit of other clinically important outcomes.”

Abeyasinghe said it was similar to the situation with Hydroxychloroquine, which was touted as effective against COVID-19 but turned out to have “no significant impact” like other anti-viral drugs.

The WHO official pointed out that many COVID-19 patients recover from the illness even without a treatment since they have good immune systems.

“More than 95% of them recovered without specific treatments. So if you give those patients a particular drug and see that that drug cure them. That is not science; that is not evidence. And this is what happening again with possibly, Ivermectin,” he said, referring to people claiming that the drug is effective against COVID-19.

Ivermectin had been used by some doctors in the Philippines to treat COVID-19 despite not receiving government approval. 

After several warnings from the government, Malacañang on Monday said the proponents of Ivermectin for COVID-19 patients finally applied for a compassionate use permit with the Food and Drug Administration. 

A compassionate special permit allows experimental or unregistered drugs for limited off-label use. However, it acquiring such a permit does not mean that the drug is proven to be effective since that requires a clinical trial.

Abeyasinghe warned people against thinking that they will be protected against COVID-19 if they take a drug that is still not proven to be effective.

“We have seen that repeatedly, people who have taken for example the Hydroxychloroquine or Ivermectin falling to COVID. So let’s refrain from this and let the scientists do what they have to do,” he said.

The WHO official lamented that “the fight against the infodemic has been even more difficult than to fight against the pandemic.”

He said misinformation only distracts experts or technical people “from doing what they need to do.”

Until now, there are not a lot drugs that have been proven to be effective against COVID-19. Among those proven to be effective are corticosteroids but they are only recommended for severe cases.

There are still ongoing clinical trials for other drugs and herbal remedies believed to be effective against COVID-19.

The interest in Ivermectin increased as COVID-19 cases surge in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Total cases reached more than 800,000 on Monday and is estimated to reach 1 million by the end of April, according to OCTA Research Group.