MANILA - Lawmakers squabbled Wednesday over the use of anti-parasite drug ivermectin for COVID-19 patients after health authorities discouraged its use against the pandemic.
In a message over a Viber group for the party-list coalition shared with the media, AKO Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin said officials should not lose sight of the real issues that must be addressed in the middle of the pandemic including vaccine rollout, health protocols and distributing aid.
"Bakuna, health protocols at ayuda ang solusyon hindi ang spekulasyon at opinion. Second, there is a reason why we have the [Food and Drug Administration], we need to trust our institution," he said.
"Conspiracies, speculations and opinions will not help. All that we hear about ivermectin are just speculations absent credible studies by our experts. Let us allow our experts to do their job. Studying the effects of certain proposed medications is not something that can be rushed even when we are in a pandemic. Our experts need to make sure that the proposed medication is really a cure and will not pose as added danger to the health of the public."
He also issued an appeal to lawmakers who are pushing for the use of ivermectin, amid scarcity of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"Alam ko na maganda ang hangarin ng mga proponent ng ivermectin pero kailangan parin ito idaan sa tamang paraan upang siguraduhing ito nga ay solusyon at hindi panibagong problema," he said.
The World Health Organization has warned against the use of Ivermectin as it was not yet proven effective against COVID-19.
WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe pointed out that many COVID-19 patients recover from the illness even without a treatment since they have good immune systems.
The Department of Health also said a systematic review of 6 randomized controlled trials showed that Ivermectin did not significantly reduce the 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.”
For his part, Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Mike Defensor said the government has already passed Bayanihan 1 and 2 while the House of Representatives has conducted hearings on the vaccine rollout.
"I would have let your statement pass if not for your unfair accusation that we are basing our stance on conspiracies, speculation and opinion," he told Garbin, adding that lawmakers backing the drug have studied the issue.
He noted that medical experts backing ivermectin use were the only ones who showed for a House committee on health hearing on the issue. He questioned why doctors face the threat of losing their license if they prescribe ivermectin.
He also cited his own experience taking ivermectin. "I took ivermectin and I was able to survive COVID. I am sorry if you feel that way regarding our position but I cannot in conscience allow the 13,435 deaths due to COVID to increase uncontrollably knowing that there is a possible solution," he said.
Garbin did not respond directly to Defensor, but instead posted a link to a news article reporting that ivermectin’s own manufacturer says there is no basis in using it for COVID-19. Defensor then said an infectious disease expert had said that ivermectin "could have potential" despite lack of proof.
Meanwhile, another lawmaker advocating the use of ivermectin said he also did his own research on the drug.
"I'm very passionate about this because I want to find hope for our Filipinos that there is this drug that maybe can prevent them from catching the virus," 1-PACMAN party-list Rep. Enrico Pineda told ANC Wednesday.
"If they do catch it, if you take 1 tablet, for 3 to 5 days you get well and it's very, very cheap. 'Yan lang po ang pinaglalaban ko (I'm fighting for this) because there's no hope," he added.
The lawmaker, who survived COVID-19 after contracting the virus in September, said he recently took ivermectin as prophylaxis or preventive treatment.
"I'm a COVID survivor but right now I started taking ivermectin more as a prophylactic, which is recommended to take 1 tablet every 2 weeks but really depending on body weight," he said.
The drug is currently approved in the country to treat parasitic skin conditions and for veterinary use in animals.
By promoting the use of ivermectin, Pineda, who is not a medical expert, said this could "ease the mind" of the public who have to go out to work.
"I'm not a medical expert but I did my research. The thing is I want to find hope for the Filipino people. There's no more hope eh," he said.
He added, "Most of our countrymen, kumbaga kapit na sa patalim because they have to go out and work, knowing that the disease is there. They are not fully protected. And if they get sick, can they afford? Some people would say, 'Mabuti nalang namatay ako. Ganiyan pala kamahal babayaran ko.'"
The lawmaker called on the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Health "to have an open mind and be proactive" on the potential benefits of ivermectin.
The debate on Ivermectin has heightened as government is being criticized for the slow rollout of vaccines — reaching only 800,000 people in 1 month — and COVID cases and deaths have reached record-high numbers.