By Sola Ogundipe
The World Health Organisation, WHO has joined the growing list of health bodies warning against the use of the generic anti-parasite drug ivermectin in patients with COVID-19 except for clinical trials, because of a lack of data demonstrating its benefits.
The European Medicines Agency, and the US Food and Drug Administration, FDA, had recommended against the use of the drug for COVID-19.
Merck, a pharmaceutical company that manufactures ivermectin, has also said its analysis did not support the drug’s safety and efficacy for COVID-19.
“This applies to patients with COVID-19 of any disease severity,” Janet Diaz, a top WHO official for clinical care response, told reporters of the WHO recommendation, saying it was “based on very low certainty of evidence” that ivermectin helps.
“We are fighting this overuse of unproven therapies – especially some of these repurposed drugs – in various parts of the world without evidence of efficacy,” Diaz said. “There can be more harm than any good.”
The WHO’s review was based on a survey of 16 trials of ivermectin involving 2,400 people, including those comparing it with hydroxychloroquine, an older malaria medicine that has been discredited as a COVID-19 treatment. There were very few placebo-controlled studies of ivermectin.
Bram Rochwerg, an associate professor at Canada’s McMaster University and a co-chair of the WHO panel that reviewed ivermectin, said more data was needed in order to make informed decisions.
He said the data available was sparse and likely based on chance, though he said: “high quality, trustworthy trials” were still merited.
“We did see an increase in adverse effects in patients that were randomised to ivermectin,” he said, citing gastrointestinal upsets and headaches.
Worldwide, he said, there are 66 trials of ivermectin registered, with 60,000 participants, so more data on its impact on the pandemic was coming.
Ivermectin is an FDA-approved broad-spectrum anti-parasitic agent that has anti-viral activity against a broad range of viruses including the COVID-19 virus and is claimed to potentially cut the risk of COVID-19 deaths, according to researchers.
Some countries have been utilising ivermectin to combat the coronavirus, despite the lack of evidence for it as a treatment.
In February, Lagos state-approved a clinical trial of the drug to assess its effectiveness against COVID-19.