COVID-19: Malawians turn to Ivermectin, pharmacies cash in


Pharmacies in Malawi are cashing in on a surge in demand for a drug called Ivermectin that is said to help in treating the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Ideally, Ivermectin is a drug used to treat parasites in livestock but news of its usage in South Africa for COVID-19, has reached Malawi's shores and people are dashing to pharmacies and drug stores.

Despite the Presidential Taskforce on the Coronavirus saying there is no conclusive evidence that Ivermectin drugs do cure COVID-19, has established that people in Blantyre are still flocking into various local pharmacies to buy it in a bid to contain the pandemic.

A woman gets tested for COVID-19
A woman gets tested for COVID-19

Our investigations centered in pharmacies and clinics in Zingwangwa, Ndirande, Ginnery Corner and Blantyre Market where we got  evidence that privates pharmacies and hospitals are ordering and stocking Ivermectin for COVID-19 patients.

A pharmacy attendant at Ginnery Corner in the city claimed that there is evidence that Ivermectin keeps one from contracting the Coronavirus and cures them of it, if they do contract the virus.

“Yes, these drugs are very helpful and reliable even though authorities are questioning them. We have examples of people who are COVID-19 free after using them,” she claimed.

In another pharmacy, an attendant told us they keep running out of supply daily and have to replenish due to high demand.

Cashing in

Last week, a tablet was selling at K2,500 in Blantye but our snap visits revealed that a tablet is now going at K5,000.

"Most doctors prescribe two tablets a day for five days," revealed one attendant.

It means people are paying K50,000 for a full dosage! 

At Zingwangwa, we pretended to be seeking medical treatment seekers at a certain private clinic and asked for the Ivermectin drug.

The clinician there said each tablet is selling at K10,000 and we would need K100,000 for a full dosage.

He warned that if we failed to purchase at that time, we might have to get it later in the afternoon as demand was high.

Our visit to the Blantyre CBD and Ndirande yielded similar results.

The government has since caught a whiff of the news and within the week, the Poisons and Medicines Regulatory Authority (PMRA) cautioned Malawians against the use of the drug and other traditional medicines to contain COVID-19.

The body’s director general, Medson Kamala said it was worrisome that people are using Ivermectin, a drug intended to contain parasitic infections.

“PMRA has noted with the concern circulation of news in various channels regarding the use of conventional and traditional medicines to treat, manage and manage COVID-19,” said Kamala.

The institution has meanwhile urged people to exercise patience as various interventions are being undertaken to establish if Ivermectin works or it has side effects.

Kamala fell short of giving any specified action that will be taken on clinics or pharmacies found selling Ivermectin.

Reacting to the development,  Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN) executive director, George Jobe suggests that qualified medical and drug stakeholders should explain how Ivermectin affects humans.

“In this case, we have Pharmacy and Medicine Regulatory Authority. So when we are saying the medicine does not cure, does not cure, does it mean it is toxic to humans? We needs them to explan,” he said.

South African approval

South African authorities, a week ago, allowed the use of Ivermectin in controlled compassionate circumstances to treat COVID-19; medical practitioners who apply to the regulator to use the drug will be considered on a case-by-case basis. 

Ivermectin is not authorised for human use in South Africa, but some medical practitioners have been calling for it to be used for the treatment of COVID-19.

One of the South African doctors who lobbied for its usage Dr Farida Amod said Ivermectin can help to reduce the number of coronavirus infections and COVID-19 related deaths.  

“Ivermectin in some randomised controlled trials and in some epidemiologic settings where they’ve used it for mass programmes has been shown to have been very positive. So I think when you have a situation where the need is so dire and immediate, we can’t wait for new drugs because that takes time. So, to use re-purposed drugs like ivermectin is an excellent idea,” she argued.

Authorities in Zimbabwe have also approved the use of ivermectin to treat coronavirus patients, after doctors appealed to the Health Ministry to reverse an earlier ban on imports and use of the drug. Physicians in Zimbabwe are using ivermectin in a solution with nanosilver — which is used as an algaecide — and found the combination to be “a game changer,” the College of Primary Care Physicians said in a letter to the ministry.