A drug that costs as little as £1.50 for a course of treatment could be a game-changer in the fight against COVID-19.
Ivermectin is a medication used to treat many types of parasite infestations and is widely used across Africa.
Scientists have been curious as to why Africa has been spared the high death toll and infection rates of the better-resourced Europe and the US.
The Africa paradox
Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people, has seen fewer deaths from COVID-19 than the UK, which has a population about a 20th of the size.
The average life expectancy in Africa is around 63 years, compared to 81 years in the UK – that is one reason why there has been less of a death toll across the continent – older people are particularly vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.
But it may not be the whole story.
One theory is this low death rate could also be explained by the wide-spread use of ivermectin.
Positive results for Ivermectin
Analysis of 11 studies has suggested it can cut the risk of death and recovery times in infected patients.
Meta-analysis: Meta-analysis of randomized trials of ivermectin to treat SARS-CoV-2 infection
Ivermectin resulted in a reduction of virus replication in laboratory studies, the university said, adding that a small pilot showed giving the drug early could reduce viral load and the duration of symptoms in some patients with mild COVID-19
Oxford University researchers are now looking at the drug to see if it can slow or stop the progression of the virus with a large scale study of home-based treatments, known as PRINCIPLE.
In the UK, the medication is prescribed for treating scabies, head lice and rosacea.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the UK health watchdog, recommends it should also be given for round worm infections.
More than 20 countries, including Greece, Bulgaria and Slovakia, include ivermectin in their Covid treatment programmes. India has seen a dramatic fall in cases after the government introduced Ivermectin. Daily COVID-19 cases, which peaked at 414,188, have dramatically dropped to 34,700.
In the US, provider SingleCare said 817 prescriptions had been filled for Ivermectin (which can also be used to treat skin conditions such as rosacea) in January and February 2021, compared with 92 in the same period last year.
The Oxford team said they had selected Ivermectin to be included in the trial because it was ‘readily available globally’ and known to be relatively safe (although, like most things, it can be toxic at very high doses).
Of the six other drugs in the Principle study of Covid treatments to be taken at home, only one - inhaled steroid budesonide - has so far proved effective.
Can this drug beat COVID-19?
The Recovery trial, which looked at treatments for hospital patients, discovered the steroid, dexamethasone, could treat Covid, which has been credited with saving more than 20,000 lives in the UK. It’s hoped this will have similarly positive results.
People aged 18-64 with an underlying health condition or experiencing breathlessness, and anyone aged 65 or over, can sign up to the Principle study within 14 days of having Covid symptoms or receiving a positive test.
Chris Butler, one of the lead investigator of the trial stated. ‘By including ivermectin in a large-scale trial like PRINCIPLE, we hope to generate robust evidence to determine how effective the treatment is against COVID-19, and whether there are benefits or harms associated with its use’.
People with severe liver conditions, who are on blood-thinning medication warfarin, or taking other treatments known to interact with ivermectin, will be excluded from the trial.
Ivermectin is the seventh treatment to be investigated in the trial, and is currently being evaluated alongside antiviral drug favipiravir.
Effective healthcare does not always have to be about the amounts of money. As diagnostic pathologist, Dr Clare Craig pointed out and Total Health highlighted back in 2020, "There is a very safe way to treat COVID. Ivermectin. No money in it though".
There is also a concern that traditional treatments such as ivermectin were ignored in order to allow mass use of the experimental gene therapy vaccines EUA (Emergency Use Authorisation), which authorisation can only be granted in the absence of any other treatments. The FDA guidelines state:
"FDA may authorize unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products to be used in an emergency to diagnose, treat, or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases or conditions caused by CBRN threat agents when certain criteria are met, including there are no adequate, approved, and available alternatives".
Any other effective treatments could have been problematic for the granting of the EUA approval.
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