Health experts have panned the calls by several Pakatan Harapan (PH) MPs for ivermectin to be used in the fight against Covid-19, saying the health ministry has repeatedly stated the need for further research to determine the effectiveness of the drug in treating the virus.
Dr Khairul Hafidz, chairman of the MedtweetMY movement, said a clinical study on ivermectin had shown good results but that the study was flawed and had yet to pass the peer review stage.
“The ivermectin study used by many countries was recently withdrawn due to elements of plagiarism and discrepancies in data,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“It was this study that led many countries to make their decision,” he added. “In Malaysia, with the studies we currently have, we feel that the findings are still not enough for us to make a decision on whether ivermectin can be used on humans.”
The MPs who had called for the use of ivermectin were Mohamad Sabu (Kota Raja), Khalid Samad (Shah Alam), R Sivarasa (Sungai Buloh), Johari Abdul (Sungai Petani), Sim Tze Tzin (Bayan Baru), William Leong (Selayang) and P Prabakaran (Batu).
This led to public concern over whether their statements might be used by anti-vaxxers as basis for refusing Covid-19 jabs.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said early this month that he did not rule out the possibility of allowing the use of ivermectin to treat Covid-19 patients if strong evidence were found on the effectiveness and side effects of the drug.
The health ministry currently allows the use of ivermectin on a strictly off-label basis pending a comprehensive study on the matter.
Ivermectin is an oral treatment normally used for lice and other parasitic infections.
Khairul said the MPs should be patient and wait for the results of clinical studies in Malaysia to demonstrate a high level of effectiveness.
“It’s possible that they did not have all the facts, and there may have been others who explained the effectiveness of ivermectin to them and the MPs did not confirm what they were told with the health ministry,” he said.
He said public anxiety over Covid-19 might become a catalyst for the promotion of the drug.
Meanwhile, public health expert Dr Sanjay Rampal said evidence-based principles should be used to determine the safety and efficiency of vaccines and drugs for use during the pandemic.
“It is important to evaluate the validity of research reports critically before using them,” he told MalaysiaNow.
“There is suggestive evidence for the effectiveness of ivermectin but the evidence is from small, heterogenous studies that could be susceptible to various biases.”
Sanjay added that the ivermectin movement was not the first for the repurposing of a single type of drug for use on Covid-19 patients.
“As we search for an effective treatment for Covid-19, some have questioned the long duration of the drug development cycle, the expensive nature of drug repurposing and registration, and the need for large confirmatory randomised trials,” he said.
“History warns us about repurposing drugs with insufficient research,” he added, citing an incident involving thalidomide in the 1960s where the off-label use of a supposedly harmless compound led to severe congenital disabilities.