Lawmakers warn vs Covid ‘drugs’

CONCERNS were raised in Congress over the selling of medicines claiming to cure coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) but have not been approved by the government.

Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon cautioned the public against buying unauthorized Covid-19 treatments or prophylactics.

STILL FULL A signage hangs outside the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Pasay City informing the public that its Covid-19 ward is full. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

Biazon said drugs like Ivermectin were being sold online.

“While I am pleased that our officials are proactively looking for viable solutions to help Covid-19 patients overcome the disease, I am alarmed over the proliferation of online sellers marketing and offering medicines not approved as a cure for Covid-19,” he said in a statement issued on Monday.

He called on the Department of Trade and Industry to keep a close watch on e-commerce sites selling restricted medicines.

Biazon also reminded people to not self-medicate.

“The public should only buy the medicine from legitimate sellers. It is dangerous to buy from unknown, unverified, or anonymous online sellers, especially those that sell to
customers even without a prescription from a physician being presented,” he said.

The lawmaker also expressed alarm over the seizure earlier this year of P9 million worth of smuggled goods that included Lianhua Qingwen capsules.

“These smugglers are realizing that there is a viable market for the drug here in the Philippines,” he said.

Biazon said Lianhua Qingwen is a prescription drug and should only be sold as such from drugstores and other authorized outlets.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Ivermectin or Lianhua Qingwen for Covid-19 treatment.

Valenzuela City Rep. Weslie Gatchalian shared Biazon’s concern, stressing that Ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug, is not a cure for coronavirus.

FDA Director General Rolando Enrique Domingo has said “there is no registered Ivermectin oral formulation for human use.”

Various medical groups also cast doubt on Ivermectin’s effectivity as an anti-Covid medicine.

“Based on the current evidence from randomized control trials, we do not recommend the use of Ivermectin for the treatment of Covid-19. It has not been proven to significantly reduce mortality or improve other clinical outcomes. This recommendation will be updated as more evidence is generated from ongoing trials,” one organization said in a statement.

The Department of Health (DoH) is open to holding clinical trials for Ivermectin as a possible cure for Covid-19, but the World Health Organization (WHO) believes that “misinformation” about the drug has muddled the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Several groups, led by Concerned Doctors and Citizens of the Philippines, have appealed to government leaders to consider Ivermectin as a possible medical solution amid the spike in Covid cases in the country.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said while the health department is open to exploring the use of repurposed drugs to help in the fight against the virus, they still have to go through a clinical trial.

“Kami po ay may mandato ng paghahanap ng ganitong klaseng gamot, but people has to understand that we have to do this in a scientific process as kung hindi, hindi natin masisiguro na ito ay ligtas at ito ay magkakaroon ng proteksyon sa taumbayan (We have a mandate to find that kind of medicine, but people should understand that we have to do this scientifically, or we will not have that assurance that this will be safe),” Vergeire said
She reiterated that the DoH agrees with the WHO position that there is no conclusive evidence that the drug will provide protection against Covid-19, infectious diseases specialist Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana echoed Vergeire’s statements, saying there should be clear evidence of the drug’s safety and effectiveness against the virus.

Dr. Rabindra Abeyansinghe, WHO country representative, said misinformation regarding supposed cures for Covid-19 has become “distracting.”

“We are clear in our statement that has been backed by the European Medical Agency, the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and even the largest manufacturer of Ivermectin has said that the [drug] has not proven [its] efficacy against Covid-19 . . . . that is why the WHO has come out with a very clear position,” Abeyasinghe said during the press briefing of presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr.

Abeyasinghe said since most Covid-19 patients recover if they have a good immune system, giving a drug that claims curative effects against the virus should not be considered “science” or “evidence.”

“Let’s do the clinical trial, that has the power to differentiate if they were cured because of chance or whether it is the actual efficacy of the drug . . . . Let’s focus on what we know works and not create undue confidence in the people . . . . Let the scientists do what they have to do,” he said.