The South African Police Service (SAPS) intercepted R6-million worth of Ivermectin and other unregistered medicine at OR Tambo International Airport over the past two weeks, in separate incidents. 

A man was confronted at the airport on January 13 and was found in possession of over 24 000 Invermectin tablets worth a market value of R720 000. The suspect is currently out on bail.

The second incident involved two men who were found in possession of a number of unregistered medicines on January 26. The first man was found with 18 085 Ivermectin tablets in his possession, worth a market value of R552,550.

The second man was found to be in possession of Diclofenac sodium tablets, Chlorpheniramine maleate tablets, and Amoxycilin tablets worth a market value of R25 000.

Both men were arrested and appeared before the Kempton Park Magistrates Court and their case was postponed to February 1 for a formal bail application.

A further three people were arrested on January 28, two women and one man. The first woman had 178 200 tablets in her possession. The second female suspect was found with 66 400 tablets in her possession. The male suspect was found in possession of 49 200 tablets. All unregistered medicines are worth R5-million.

All three suspects appeared before the Kempton Park Magistrates Court on Friday, January 29. Their case has been postponed to February 1 for a formal bail application.

All six suspects were charged for being in possession of unregistered medicines without authorisation and importing medicines without a license from the South African Health Product Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

According to section 22(c) of the Medicines Act, anyone who wishes to import medicines into the country must have written authorisation from SAHPRA. Members of the public are therefore reminded that those who are found to be in contravention of this law will be apprehended and brought before a court of law.

In a statement SAPS said: “The Integrated Multi-Disciplinary law enforcement strategy in place at the OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) has once again proven to be successful.

“This after the South African Revenue Service (SARS) Customs & Excise officials apprehended foreign nationals entering South Africa with R6-million worth of tablets suspected to be Ivermectin.

“The South African Police Service (SAPS), and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority Law Enforcement Unit (SAHPRA) were thereafter involved in the detention and the investigation process as the Multi-Disciplinary team continues to clamp down on the illegal importation of medicines at the port of entry.”

SAPS believe the imported medicine would be sold as a treatment for COVID-19. SAHPRA addressed the use of invermectin in the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 and said:

“SAHPRA appreciates the frustration and pain experienced by healthcare practitioners, patients and families given the limited availability of evidence-based options for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Against this backdrop many practitioners are prescribing products claiming to contain ivermectin for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19, despite a lack of adequate evidence to support its use. As there is no formulation of ivermectin for human use available in South Africa, the ivermectin being used is either for veterinary use or sourced from illegal importation.

“This widespread unregulated use of ivermectin has meant that the quality and content of the ivermectin being prescribed cannot be guaranteed. Furthermore, in the absence of approved guidance for use, there is currently no standardisation of dose or indication for use. SAHPRA has also received anecdotal reports of ivermectin replacing other proven therapies as well as reports of falsified and substandard products being sold and used as ivermectin.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has not made any recommendations for ivermectin use, as indicated in their statement issued last week which states: “We are closely following the research on ivermectin, which has shown promising results in some trials. With new results from more trials coming in in the following days, we will conduct a systematic review for an independent panel of experts – the guideline development group – to consider the full evidence available. All changes to WHO recommended treatments follow this expedited but comprehensive review, and are shared with the public at the earliest possible”.

Image: SAPS/ Twitter

Article written by

Imogen Searra