As demands for ivermectin skyrocketed in the last few weeks following report of new studies indicating it could be effective in treating COVID-19, health experts say Nigerians need to be careful about the indiscriminate use of the drug.
Owners of pharmaceutical retail outlets say the cost of ivermectin has soared in the last two months, following an unusual rise in demand for the drug.
They said that the high demand for the drug may have been spurred by studies and reports claiming that it was effective in the treatment of COVID-19.
Ivermectin is a medication used to treat many types of parasitic infestations. It has also been used widely in sub-Saharan Africa since the 1990s to treat river blindness.
According to recent findings, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a surge in demand for the drug globally. Health experts are, however, urging caution against the misuse of the medication, noting that its abuse can have a serious health effect.
Speaking on the possibility of ivermectin abuse by Nigerians engaging in self-medication, a clinical pharmacist, Dr. Kingsley Amibor said he is indeed worried about the indiscriminate use of the drug.
He said that long-time misuse of medications like ivermectin can have a damaging effect.
“For instance, adverse effects such as dizziness, headache, somnolence, vertigo, tremor, encephalopathy and neurological challenges have been reported with the use of ivermectin. Seizures have also been reported during the post-marketing experience,” he said.
Encephalopathy is a disease that affects the brain. It happens when there’s been a change in the way the brain works or when a change in the body that affects the brain.
According to Amibor, serious neurological events in humans, such as encephalopathy, stupor or coma were earlier reported in African countries during campaigns to treat Onchocerca volvulus.
The World Health Organisation describes Onchocerciasis, commonly known as “river blindness”, as a disease caused by the parasitic, worm Onchocerca volvulus. It is transmitted to humans through exposure to repeated bites of infected blackflies of the genus Simulium.
The consultant hospital pharmacist called for proper health education on social media platforms, radio and television, as well as print media, noting that many people make decisions about their health based on information they get from social and regular media platforms.
“The populace must be informed and warned against indiscriminate use of ivermectin in suspected cases of COVID-19.
“Yes everyone wants to stay alive. Certainly, nobody wants to die from COVID-19 infection, but indiscriminate or random use of ivermectin is not the way to go. People must be encouraged to follow the laid down protocol for COVID-19 testing and other control measures,” he said.
Pharmacists working with NAFDAC to curb price gouging, counterfeiting
The National Chairman of the Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, Dr. Samuel Adekola, disclosed that his group is currently trying to map out a strategy with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control to tackle the challenge of ivermectin misuse.
“What we can also do at this stage is to guard against abuse. Right now, there is no standardised or accurate dosing for ivermectin in the management of COVID-19 because it was not designed ab initio for that purpose.
“Another thing we are doing as a professional body in conjunction with NAFDAC is to look at how to put the drug under control before it becomes open to faking. The process will also ensure there is price standardisation,” he said.
He expressed fear that if the situation is not quickly arrested, it could degenerate into hoarding and price gouging, as witnessed in the case of hand sanitisers and face masks, starting at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
He disclosed that ivermectin is presently produced in Europe.
“We cannot manufacture it here in Nigeria, unless the active pharmaceutical ingredient is easily accessible and ivermectin is officially approved for COVID-19 management,” he said.
Ivermectin prices soar in pharmacies
Recent findings revealed that the cost of the medication has increased considerably, as many local pharmacies told our correspondent that it is now more profitable to sell in bits than in packs.
The pharmacy attendants said Nigerians are probably buying the drug to treat COVID-19.
The pharmacy attendants who also confirmed that they have recorded a boom in the sale of ivermectin lately, however, maintained that the hike in the price of the drug was as a result of its global demand.