By Charlie Manalo
Sometime last month, in the midst of the ivermectin controversy, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the Department of Health and the Department of Science and Technology to conduct clinical trials on the supposed miracle drug against the dreaded COVID-19.
However, in response, the DOST bared it would start conducting clinical trials by the end of the month of May.
Why wait for over a month before complying with the President’s order?
No less than the prime mover of the ivermectin initiative, Anakalusugan Rep. Michael “Idol Mike” Defensor, is calling on both the DoH and the DOST to heed the clinical trials as ordered by Duterte on the use of ivermectin to treat COVID-19 cases “with a sense of urgency,” time being of the essence.
“The trials should be done as expeditiously as possible. Time is of the essence because we could save lives with the use of this inexpensive wonder drug,” says Defensor, adding the DoH and the DOST should not wait until next year to come out with trial results.
Take note that clinical trials usually take no less than six months to finish.
“If the administration achieves its goal of attaining herd immunity in the National Capital Region Plus area this year by vaccinating at least 58 million Filipinos, the DoH and DOST would just have wasted precious funds with their studies on the use of ivermectin on COVID-19 patients,” he said.
“As our elders would say, ‘Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo’ (What is grass good for, if the horse is already dead),” he added.
Defensor is raising a valid point here. In an article written by a medical doctor Justus Hope and published in thedesertreview.com and newsbreak.com. It appears India, particularly Delhi, is now slowly containing the contagion by dispensing Ivermectin to its citizens.
“Just three weeks after adding Ivermectin, Delhi now leads India out of the deadly second surge of the COVID pandemic. Cases that had peaked at 28,395 on April 20 plummeted nearly 80 percent to just 6,430 on May 15. Deaths peaked May 4, and now they are also down 25 percent,” Hope’s article read.
On May 10, Hope said the Indian State of Goa, under Chief Minister of Goa Dr. Pramod Sawant, “a progressive 49-year-old physician persuaded by science,” adopted an even more ambitious policy of preemptive Ivermectin for all adults in the state.
This was after Sawant reportedly read Dr. Pierre Kory’s Dr. Tess Lawrie’s and Dr. Andrew Hill’s robust meta-analyses.
As a direct result, Goa has seen a drop in cases from 3,124 the day after the announcement to 1,314 five days later.
“Meanwhile, three other Indian states have followed Goa’s lead in adding ivermectin: Uttarkhand, Karnataka, and Uttar Pradesh. And, as expected, they have seen a drop in new daily cases as well, with Uttar Pradesh down nearly 75 percent from a peak of 37,944 just four days after they began following the April 20 AIIMS guidance to just 10,505 on May 16,” says Hope.
So, if other countries are doing it, and are reaping some success in the process, why do the DoH and the DOST seem to be playing it cool as we see the number of covid cases in the country seemingly stuck in the 50,000 range?
Defensor pointed out that the ivermectin trials might be useful if the results are out before the end of this year.
“We could still save many lives with the use of this cheap experimental drug. Poor patients can afford it. It costs only P35 per tablet. That’s what makes it appealing,” he stressed as he chided the DOH for promoting and even procuring the more expensive Covid-19 experimental drugs while cracking down on the use of ivermectin.
Remdesivir, which the DOH recently procured, costs from P11,000 to P48,000 per vial in private hospitals.
“Ivermectin and remdesivir are both investigational drugs. The World Health Organization does not encourage their use, and yet the DOH is promoting one while clamping down on the other,” he says.
In fact, WHO has even removed remdesivir from the list of COVID-19 medicines, which is why Defensor says he could not understand why the DOH obviously has a bias for costly COVID-19 medicines.
“They continue to spend billions to buy remdesivir, whose cost is borne ultimately by taxpayers, by Philhealth and by desperate private citizens who try to save the lives of their sick loved ones,” he adds.
Unfortunately, despite all the pleadings, it appears both the DoH and the DOST remain unperturbed. It seems they don’t have the time for some cheap medicine even if it is being touted in other parts of the world as pandemic-ender.
They don’t even have the time to explain why they are delaying the conduct of the clinical trial of ivermectin.
When joy no longer brings pleasure
The people behind the QC Ivermectin Initiative beamed with pride as they announced a drastic reduction of Covid-19 cases in Matandang Balara, where the Ivermectin Initiative kicked off last April 30.
According to Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor, COVID-19 cases dropped from 138 cases in April 29 to 39 cases as of May 24, as attested by Barangay Health Emergency Response Team in the said barangay.
The significant decline of COVID-19 cases in that particular area, according to Defensor, is a tremendous achievement in the fight against covid and further bolsters our appeal to undertake mass distribution to our people that Dr. Rafael Castillo, one of the prescribing doctors in the QC distribution event, described the development as something short of a successful endeavor.
He said “the reduction in active cases in Matandang Balara from April 29 to May 22 is 57.2 percent compared to just 34.2 percent in the rest of District 3 excluding Matandang Balara; and 48 percent in District 2,” as it has yet to be documented properly.
However, Defensor, along with Deputy Speaker Rodante Marcoleta, his partner in the Ivermectin Initiative, felt their efforts were betrayed by no less than the Quezon City government when it reportedly asked residents of Matandang Balara to line up for their own version of a community pantry.
Around six thousand people showed up for their share of a bag of rice, a piece of bread and a bottle of water. But the sad part is, COVID health protocols were violated as no social distancing was observed. Some did not even wear face shields.
A picture of Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, who claims she had tested positive twice for the virus, showed she was without a face shield.
Defensor and Marcoleta hit the nail on the head when they said that “the crisis the pandemic has brought us really requires the highest form of altruism, especially among public servants, to address the dire needs of the citizenry. But one must ensure that one’s good intentions do not unwittingly cause more harm.” While gathering several thousand people to give them food assistance is a laudable intention, the potential to spread the virus is also high, the two point out. “One should think of better ways to give the assistance in a much safer manner, without compromising the established health protocols. Government-initiated activities like Joy’s ayuda, according to the two solons, also highlight inconsistencies in the government’s enforced policies.
“We hastily sanction and close resorts for allowing a few hundred visitors in a much bigger open space; yet, we make thousands of people congregate in a limited area while waiting for their food basket,” the two lawmakers pointed out. Being government officials, the two say the more they are expected to be “more cautious and thoughtful in any planned public gatherings.”
“As a precaution to avert another possible outbreak, we suggest that everyone who participated in this big gathering should have a nasal swab or at least an antigen test to identify those who may have been infected with the virus,” they suggested.
As this was not the first time this has happened, Defensor and Marcoleta are calling on the Department of Interior and Local Govt to look into this and to implement strict disciplinary measures on those responsible for this event.
No amount of ayuda can compensate for the lives to be lost in a reckless act like this. It is an event where ironically, the joy of giving won’t bring anymore pleasure, but agony and sorrow for those who might have the misfortune of getting infected.
Did I say it right or should I say it with a capital “J?”
Cartoon courtesy of Kiko Man | The Manila Times