An extremely cheap, safe and widely available off-patent medicine appears to be saving the lives of covid-19 patients across Latin America and beyond. Yet hardly anybody’s talking about it.
By Nick Corbishley and cross-posted from Naked Capitalism.
I’d like to start this article with a couple of disclaimers and a caveat. First of all, I am not a medical doctor. This article is not intended as medical advice. It’s a layman’s account of how an extremely cheap, safe and widely available off-patent medicine called ivermectin appears to be saving the lives of countless Covid-19 patients across Latin America and beyond. Yet hardly anybody is talking about it.
Here’s the caveat: The first section of the article, which was completed on Friday, is about Mexico City’s recent deployment of ivermectin in its fight against Covid-19. On Saturday, Mexico’s Ministry of Health jacked up its total excess death count due to Covid (for the whole country) by 60%, from 182,000 to 294,000. However, most of these deaths took place before Mexico City began using ivermectin as part of its its test-and-treat approach to Covid.
Covid-19 vaccines are reaching most emerging and developing economies in only drips and drabs, with a few notable exceptions such as Chile. In many countries, locking down entire cities or regions and paying millions of non-essential workers not to work while front-line doctors and nurses battle to contain the virus is not an option. There simply isn’t enough money available. This has left doctors and health authorities with little choice but to try out cheap, widely available generic medicines. Those drugs include ivermectin, a “well-studied, well tolerated,” (in the words of a 2013 FT article) off-patent anti-parasitical.
The results have been extremely promising, according to almost all of the clinical studies conducted thus far. Many of the studies took place in Latin America where around half of the countries in the region have used or are using ivermectin to some degree or another. A meta analysis of 42 clinical trials, involving approximately 15,000 patients, found that 83%
showed improvements with early treatment, 51% improved during late-stage
treatment and there was an 89% prevention of onset rate noted. Yet the studies have received scant attention in more advanced economies — so much so that the vast majority of the people I talk to here in Europe have still not even heard of the medicine.
Bucking the Trend
On December 29th of last year, Mexico’s Institute of Socal Security (IMSS) allowed ivermectin to be prescribed to outpatients with Covid. On the same day the Secretariat of Health of Mexico City and the State of Mexico decided to adopt a protocol in which anyone testing positive at any one of the city’s 250 rapid testing sites would be given ivermectin. As you can see in the graphs below, courtesy of Juan Chamie, a data scientist from EAFIT University in Colombia, based on data provided by Mexico City authorities, the number of hospitalizations due to Covid and excess deaths peaked shortly after the New Year and have been falling sharply ever since. They are now almost back to their prior base line.
Mexico City is the first major global city to adopt what amounts to a test-and-treat approach to covid-19 involving ivermectin. But it was the largely indigenous southern state of Chiapas that led the way last summer. In July 2020, as Mexico was buckling under its first wave of the pandemic, the state decided to distribute ivermectin as a Covid-19 treatment, having already deployed the medicine in its battle against mosquito-borne RNA viruses such as Zika and Chikungunya. Since October Chiapas has consistently occupied the lowest risk level on the federal government’s coronavirus stoplight map.
Thanks to ivermectin’s apparent success in Chiapas, IMSS allowed the medicine to be prescribed nationwide. It also helped launch the pilot program in Mexico City, for which it received a barrage of criticism. An official group of health experts argued that there’s no scientific evidence that the drug is effective, and called for the immediate repeal of its use. To their credit, both the Secretariat and IMSS have stuck to their guns…