New Delhi: The Indian Bar Association served a legal notice to chief scientist at the World Health Organization, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, for “influencing the public against” and “running a disinformation campaign against Ivermectin” — a popular anti-parasitic drug prescribed for Covid-19 patients.
The IBA, a private bar association headquartered in Mumbai, was reacting to public statements, including those on Twitter, by Swaminathan saying that WHO did not recommend the drug’s use for Covid-19, “except within clinical trials”. She also said there was “no evidence” that the drug helped stop the disease’s progression.
The WHO has consistently said there is insufficient evidence to prove that Ivermectin helps alleviate the Covid-19 disease.
The IBA’s 51-page notice, sent on 25 May, calls Swaminathan’s statements “highly unconscionable, misleading and issued with ulterior purposes and deliberate intention to underplay the effectiveness of Ivermectin in treating the Covid-19 patients as well as its use as a prophylaxis and to dissuade people from using this drug by creating doubts in the minds of people around safety of Ivermectin”.
The association has called for action under sections 302 (punishment for murder), 304 (II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 88 (act not intended to cause death), 120 (B) (party to criminal conspiracy) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of a common intention) “and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code and under Disaster Management Act, 2005”.
“The legal notice is just the first step. We are going to be taking it forward. There are forces working to repress Ivermectin for reasons mentioned in the notice,” said Dipali Ojha, the author of the notice and head of the IBA’s legal cell.
What the notice is based on
The IBA, in it’s legal notice, claims the drug, “has brought back few critically ill COVID-19 patients from the doors of death” by citing three case studies of “miraculous recovery of critically ill COVID-19 patients,” from the U.S. It also claims that the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) treatment guidelines recommend the use of the drug in mild and moderate patients.
The notice accuses Swaminathan of deliberately dismissing the drug, “in desperate hope to dissuade people of India from discovering the effectiveness of Ivermectin and that they keep falling sick and are available as a huge market,” for newer drugs that may be given Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA).
“You (Swaminathan) have abused your position as the Chief Scientist at WHO to adversely influence the people including medical doctors and scientists, by trying to impose upon them the fact that WHO does not support the use of Ivermectin either as prophylactic or in treatment of COVID-19,” reads the notice. “It seems that you have deliberately opted for deaths of people to achieve your ulterior goals.”
The IBA’s notice is, however, based on contested scientific research.
The IBA uses the research findings of two organisations — the US-based ‘Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance’ as well as the ‘British Ivermectin Recommendation Development Panel’ — to back up its claims on the benefits of Ivermectin.
Both organisations claim Ivermectin is effective in fighting Covid-19 both as prophylactic and treatment. However, a peer-reviewed journal, Frontiers in Pharmacology, has rejected research by the U.S. based Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance for it’s “unsubstantiated claims”. The American Journal of Therapeutics later published the same research.
The use of Ivermectin has always been deeply contested, but even makers of the drug have admitted that it has no potential therapeutic effects on Covid-19, saying it has “no meaningful evidence for a clinical activity or clinical efficacy in patients with Covid-19 disease”.
The Indian government is also reviewing the use of Ivermectin in its treatment protocol. The latest Covid-19 treatment protocol released by the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) on 27 May excluded Ivermectin, along with several other antibiotics, in its guidelines.
When asked, Ojha said, “The makers of Ivermectin said what they did because of a conflict of interest. They are making an antiviral drug for Covid-19 treatment, which could earn them a patent. The DGHS has exceeded its powers in putting out this new guideline. We are working on something urgent in this regard.”
Also read: India must boost surveillance, monitor variants to fight a 3rd wave: WHO’s Soumya Swaminathan