MANILA (UPDATE) - Lawmakers and doctors who took part in the distribution of ivermectin in Quezon City may face charges for distributing the unregistered anti-parasitic drug as potential treatment for COVID-19, a former health secretary said Thursday.
"The politicians [and] the doctors who administered ivermectin are liable and should be investigated and charges should be filed against them if found there is probable cause that they have violated the law," Dr. Esperanza Cabral told ANC.
Last week, 4 doctors prescribed the deworming drug as a COVID-19 treatment at a distribution program organized by Anakalusugan Party-list Rep. Mike Defensor and Sagip Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta despite warnings from several health organizations and medical groups.
Defensor had said ivermectin could be distributed through licensed compounding laboratories or pharmacies with doctor's prescription.
The Food and Drug Administration has only given 5 hospitals compassionate special permit to use ivermectin as an investigational drug against the respiratory illness.
Distribution of an unregistered drug violates Republic Act 9711 or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Act of 2009.
The FDA is investigating the drug distribution but said looking into possible liability by the lawmakers is outside its mandate.
"I think the politicians should leave the FDA alone. Let the experts' opinion dominate over the opinions of politicians, in the same way we think of randomized clinical trials as better than anecdotes and testimonials," Cabral said.
Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Domingo Egon Cayosa, in a Teleradyo interview Thursday, stressed that the distribution of an unregistered health product is prohibited under RA 9711.
"It can be a criminal act to distribute, promote or sell unregistered drug," he said. Violators could face jail term of not more than 10 years or a fine of up to P5 million, he added.
If the FDA refuses to enforce the law, Cayosa said they could be held liable for nonfeasance or the non-performance, failure or refusal to do an act that one is required to do.
"They could also be liable for Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for giving undue advantage or benefit to other sectors for unequal application of the same law," he said in Filipino.
"Third, they could also be charged administratively because they swore to uphold the law," Cayosa added.
HARM FROM IVERMECTIN USE
In the ANC interview, Cabral said she heard "a lot of harm coming from the use of ivermectin."
"If you look at the data, there are now accumulating evidence that the use of ivermectin among humans can be subject to many side effects particularly if the dose being used is higher than it should be," Cabral said.
"While science accumulates this data, the position is we should not be using it, in the same way we should not be using it because the data are not sufficient to tell us it actually works for COVID in this case."
On Tuesday, a doctors' group said a number of Filipinos contracted COVID-19 despite using ivermectin.
"We have actually seen a number of Filipinos who got COVID-19 despite using ivermectin, and in fact, not only getting infected with COVID-19 but the COVID-19 they got became really serious that they are coming to the hospital with severe COVID-19," Dr. Maricar Limpin, vice president of the Philippine College of Physicians, had told ANC.
In an advisory it issued in March, the FDA said registered oral and intravenous preparations of ivermectin in the country were veterinary products.
They were approved for use in animals for the prevention of heartworm disease and treatment of internal and external parasites in certain animal species.
Meanwhile, registered ivermectin products for human use were in topical formulations under prescription use only. This is used for the treatment of external parasites, such as head lice, and skin conditions, such as rosacea.