TrialSite chronicled ivermectin’s pathway in the African nation of Zimbabwe, from closely following the South African approach at first, nearly criminalizing access, to a complete turnaround and allowing for the research as a care option, via an off label policy. Now Zimbabwe formally authorizes the use of ivermectin, joining nations as diverse as Slovakia and Indonesia in allowing the use of the drug for the SARS-CoV-2 indication, the pathogen behind COVID-19. Recently, the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) issued a government notice, declaring, “The secretary for health and child care has authorized the MCAZ to authorize the importation and use of ivermectin for COVID-19. MCAZ will issue bulk section 75 approval for importation of human formulations of ivermectin manufactured by compliant facilities.” TrialSite commends the authorities there for opening up a more diverse and dynamic market for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infections while vaccination programs gear up. TrialSite interviewed a prominent local physician, Dr. Jackie Stone, who has been instrumental in achieving this regulatory milestone, although the physician has on more than one occasion landed in hot water for running afoul of local laws governing the drug. The reality is that the adoption of the therapy during a major spike in January 2021 was associated with a dramatic turnaround and reduction in cases. But with a new severe spike starting in June, the authorities have seen enough and moved forward with the formal declaration, according to multiple press sources on the African continent.
The Third Wave Convinces All
While ivermectin was widely understood to be key in controlling the second wave here, authorities quickly moved to reduce any prominent connection with the drug. While TrialSite cannot definitely prove the claim that groups such as the World Health Organization (WHO) pressure nations accepting the drug’s use, there are indicators that such activity is occurring based on interviews around the world. After all, WHO funding is very important in low- to middle-income countries (LMICs).
But this recent wave is bad. As of Friday, 801 new COVID-19 cases were reported along with four deaths. The country with 14.65 million residents has only seen 747,000 vaccinations, representing only about 5% of the population. As an LMIC, vaccination rates will be slow for the time being although the country’s special relationship with China could yield dividends in the form of more doses. In fact, a South African news outlet reported recently that a shipment of 2.5 million doses of Sinovac, produced by China’s Sinopharm, was on its way and should be ready for local administration by as early as late June—more on that below.
But perhaps the recent announcement that the University of Oxford would include the drug in its study was sufficient to convince elites here? That one of the most prominently branded English institutions of higher education and science would include the drug in a study could elicit reactions. Stranger things have occurred in a world with a legacy of Anglo-Saxon colonialism.
Elites Here Know
But the political and military elites in this country already know the reality, according to some influential people on the ground here. TrialSite reported back in February that regulators were already turning the other way as the drug was showing marked results. While perhaps wanting to send a particular signal to WHO and the Chinese, authorities proactively allowed for use off label because they experienced the results.
In an interview, Dr. Jackie Stone shared with TrialSite’s founder Daniel O’Connor some of the breakthroughs, challenges, and opportunities the drug offered the local population. What was clear was that this committed, dedicated, and intelligent on-the-ground physician was producing real-world data that the drug was having at least some positive impact.
But Stone made enemies along the way. While the good doctor and colleagues were caring for thousands, they were at first irritating and then outright angering at least elements of the medical establishment here. Apparently, in a seeming vendetta, they’ve found some technicalities to come after her—all just for caring and doing what all doctors are trained to do: fight to care for and save as many patients as possible.
Much like the rest of the world, African nations seek ubiquitous vaccination as TrialSite reported the continent was gearing up to securitize more debt for products in a series of vaccine bonds. Several billion were at stake, and at least some European financiers undoubtedly sought access to the proposed underwriting. TrialSite shared that the African Union took not too kindly to ivermectin because it’s perceived as A) competition to vaccination, B) cheap alternative to Chinese and Euro potential drugs, and C) all the other reasons the vast majority of national authorities seem opposed to low cost, available options.
So, the recent MCAZ news in a way surprised some commentators and analysts in such affairs.
But recently, the nation’s finance minister Mthuli Ncube reported, “We are receiving 2 million vaccines by the end of next week, and after that, we will order 1.5 million, and in the month of August, will order another 3.5 million vaccines.” The nation here is close with China and the latter’s ambitious imperative associated with vaccine diplomacy cannot be underestimated. Although the record with Sinovac is mixed thus far, Zimbabwe shares a tight diplomatic bond with the world’s second-largest economic power and to the pride of China’s R&D leadership, the African nation was one of the first to sign up to become a buying nation, reported multiple African presses, including Sowetan Live. Hence Zimbabwe remains a priority nation despite conflicting demands from other, perhaps richer places.
Local African press reports the nation seeks to inoculate 60% of the population against COVID-19 in a bid to reach so-called herd immunity by the end of the year. Of course, as TrialSite has articulated, this isn’t possible to make such claims because the actual data needed for the proper calculation isn’t in fact known. Nothing against Zimbabwe, as TrialSite argues the U.S. government doesn’t understand this math either.