AGRICULTURAL retail giant Agra says it has been flooded with customers rushing to buy the veterinary medicine ivermectin supposedly to treat Covid-19.
According to the World Health Organisation, ivermectin is a broad spectrum anti-parasitic agent. It is used in the treatment of onchocerciasis (river blindness), strongyloidiasis and other diseases caused by soil-transmitted helminthiasis. It is also used to treat scabies.
However, since the onset of the pandemic, there have been global claims it can effectively cure Covid-19. Some health practitioners around the world, including in Namibia, have recommended it to their patients, despite the Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council advising against it.
The Namibian last week found that shelves stocking ivermectin in some Agra outlets nationwide, namely in Windhoek and at Gobabis, Okahandja and Ondangwa, have been emptied, as demand for the drug soared.
Agra marketing senior manager Chrislemien Stroh says the Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe effect on the supply of various veterinary products over the past year, which are now being consumed by people.
"Products sold by us that contain ivermectin are animal health products and are used to treat a wide variety of conditions and ailments in animals," Stroh said.
The two Agra retailers in Windhoek said they are out of ivermectin stock and are waiting on the supplier for additional stock.
The branch at Ondangwa said it has been out of stock for two months but expects to restock this week.
Agra's branch administrator at Okahandja, Belinda Cilliers, says ivermectin is out of stock and has been recently in demand, mostly from the elderly.
She added that there is a question whether the ivermectin medicine cures the virus.
"We do not have anything in stock at the moment, but there is no guarantee it will work because it still is medication for animals," said Cilliers.
A Windhoek-based couple in their 50s who were diagnosed with Covid said they were prescribed the medication by a doctor. The couple claims they saw notable changes in their symptoms after taking the medication.
Another user said he used the medication as he believes it increases the oxygen saturation in one's blood. Lack of oxygen is a side effect Covid-19 is causing.
According to former health minister Dr Bernard Haufiku, people are using the medication out of desperation.
He cited two studies done by an independent research system and another one by WHO.
"Both studies stated that there is no difference between the standard care of getting inflammatory medication or taking Panado. There is no difference between the type of approach to a patient with mild to moderate Covid than giving ivermectin," Haufiku said.
"WHO says we can only use ivermectin on controlled trials. And I suggested that as well, that we must set up a cohort with a few patients who can volunteer to be on ivermectin and then we observe them for a period much longer than what has happened in the past," Haufiku said.
In a statement last week, the registrar of medicines, Johannes Gaseb, said the medicines council consulted independent experts in relevant fields both locally and internationally, adding that available studies are insufficient, used differing dosing regimens and included various concomitant medications.
Gaseb said these various medications are confounders to the efficacy of ivermectin."As such, no clear conclusion can be drawn on the clinical efficacy and safety of ivermectin in the treatment of Covid-19 infection. While the safety profile of ivermectin is considered good, it is important to note it is relative to the dose and conditions in the population in which it was studied," he stated.
Gaseb said in this case, the established safety profile of ivermectin in humans is with doses used in populations treated for various tropical diseases, lice and scabies.