‘Why should PH pay for drug trial?’
MANILA, Philippines — A former health secretary has questioned the government’s willingness to fund a clinical trial for ivermectin, which some politicians and doctors have been pushing as a treatment for COVID-19.
Dr. Esperanza Cabral, who also founded the advocacy group Doctors for Truth and Public Welfare, said in a TV interview on Thursday that, normally, those who want to promote and market a drug should be the ones to fund the research.
“It is not the government that should be spending P22 million in order to prove or [disprove] that this particular substance works,” Cabral stressed. At a Palace briefing aired on Wednesday night, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said a clinical trial for the antiparasitic drug would begin in June.
He added that the Department of Health had committed P22 million for the eight-monthslong study to determine the effectiveness of ivermectin against COVID-19.
The budget was higher than those allotted for clinical trials on a possible adjuvant treatment for COVID-19, including one for melatonin and virgin coconut oil (P9.8 million each) and herbal plants tawa-tawa and lagundi (around P5 million each).
The ivermectin study will be headed by pulmonologist Dr. Aileen Wang of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital.
In a separate interview, Doctors for Truth co-convener Dr. Minguita Padilla said the increasing number of cases in India—where the controversial drug has been used against the coronavirus since 2020—showed it was ineffective.
“Given the terrible surge in India, driven partly by its double-mutation variant, isn’t the fact that ivermectin has been a staple of COVID treatment in India since last year among the best arguments against its effectiveness against COVID-19?” Padilla pointed out.
“God forbid that we follow the path of India and Brazil because of the irresponsible use of ivermectin,” she said.
Used in India, Brazil
Earlier, Philippine Ambassador to India Ramon Bagatsing Jr. reported India’s willingness to donate ivermectin capsules to the country.
India and Brazil, which currently have the highest death rates due to COVID-19 worldwide, have been using the drug since last year.
A document from India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare dated April 22 showed that ivermectin has been part of its home and isolation care package for mild cases.
Pediatric infectious diseases expert Dr. Benjamin Co, who shared the document with the Inquirer, said he was not against a “cheap, repurposed drug.”
“But a drug that does not work is the most expensive. People will spend for this; it will not work. (People) will get complications … they will die,” he added.
According to De la Peña, the clinical trial “aims to provide data on the efficacy, safety, and effect on the viral clearance of ivermectin among asymptomatic and nonsevere Filipino patients with COVID-19.”
It is a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial, where both investigators and participants do not know if the treatment a patient receives is the drug itself or a placebo.
The project aims to get 1,200 adult participants who are either asymptomatic or have mild to moderate symptoms.
The researchers are currently coordinating with the office of Sen. Richard Gordon, Philippine Red Cross chair, for the use of its isolation facilities in Metro Manila.
The Department of Science and Technology initially opposed the conduct of clinical trials in the country on ivermectin as a possible treatment for COVID-19, saying it would be more prudent to just wait for the results of numerous ongoing studies in other countries.
The Food and Drug Authority since last month has also issued a compassionate use permit to six hospitals to give ivermectin to COVID-19 patients.
Recently, the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 composed of 41 medical groups and societies urged the public “not to patronize ivermectin in order to avoid any further harm to our health. We remind the public that there is no way to know if the circulating ivermectin capsules are legitimate or effective.”
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