PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) and the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) are concerned over the widespread illegal sales of ivermectin throughout the country.
They said that over the past few weeks, Pharmacy Enforcement branches in states all over Malaysia had confiscated the anti-parasitic drug in raids.
They said the matter was made worse when certain MPs and consumer groups were pushing the use of the drug for Covid-19 prevention and treatment, despite the questionable quality of the clinical evidence.
"Ivermectin is a Group B poison that has not been registered in Malaysia for the use in Covid-19 treatment or prevention in humans. Ivermectin has only been approved for off-label use in clinical trials at 12 hospitals in Malaysia.
"Therefore, ivermectin cannot be prescribed by any doctor or compounded and dispensed by any pharmacist other than in the approved indication, as per the MOH (Health Ministry) directive," they said in a joint statement on Wednesday (July 28).
Ivermectin has been used for decades to treat head lice and river blindness in humans and heartworms in animals, and various ivermectin manufacturers still carry warnings of side effects on its packaging.
In February, Merck, one of the larger pharmaceutical companies that makes ivermectin, also warned that there is "no scientific basis for a potential therapeutic effect against Covid-19" from pre-clinical studies.
"There is no meaningful evidence for clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with Covid-19 disease, and a concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies," it said in a statement on its website.
MPS and MMA have cautioned that any individual caught selling ivermectin for the treatment or prevention of Covid-19 they can be fined anywhere from RM25,000 to RM50,000.
"Since the start of the pandemic, both observational and randomised studies have evaluated ivermectin as a treatment for, and as prophylaxis against, Covid-19 infection.
"However, there is low-certainty evidence that ivermectin prophylaxis reduces Covid-19. It is imperative that the public understands that uncontrolled usage of ivermectin can cause side effects that may be damaging," they said.
They also encouraged Malaysians to trust the Covid-19 vaccines which have already shown its effectiveness in reducing the infection rate and mortality, such as the case in Labuan recently.
On June 5, the ministry and the Institute for Clinical Research started clinical trials to study the use and efficacy of ivermectin for high-risk Covid-19 patients at 12 hospitals.
Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said ivermectin was a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved anti-parasitic drug widely used for treating several neglected tropical diseases, including onchocerciasis, strongyloidiasis and helminthiasis.
However, he said the evidence was inconclusive to recommend routine use of ivermectin for Covid-19 patients.
Dr Noor Hisham said the FDA had not approved ivermectin for use in treating or preventing Covid-19 in humans, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that the drug be allowed only within a clinical trial setting.