Custom officials at South Africa’s main international airport have seized hundreds of thousands of tablets of a drug some people claim could be a remedy against coronavirus, police said Saturday.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) said in a statement that “tablets suspected to be ivermectin” worth six million rand (nearly $400,000) had been seized at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo international airport in the past two weeks.
Six suspects have been arrested, and charged with carrying unregistered medicine and importing drugs without a licence, the statement said.
“The unregistered medicine, which are mainly in tablet form, are believed to have been imported for sales purposes and would have been utilised in the treatment of the COVID-19 virus,” it said.
Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic agent that some people claim is a potential cure for the novel coronavirus.
Demand for the drug has surged as a result, even though scientists insist there is not yet enough evidence to promote it as a coronavirus remedy.
South Africa’s health products regulator tentatively approved the controlled use of ivermectin on humans this week, revoking a decision in December to block imports of the drug, which is not locally produced.
The ban had sparked outrage among doctors lobbying for more research into ivermectin and fuelled its underground trade.
Ivermectin is mainly used to kill parasites such as head lice on both animals and people, and has been widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa since the 1990s to treat river blindness.
It is usually registered for veterinary use in South Africa but is not forbidden for humans.