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Indonesian pharmacies are running out of ivermectin, an oral treatment normally used for parasitic infections, AFP reports, after it was widely used and is believed to have been successful in India, Mexico, Bolivia and elsewhere.

Yoyon, head of a group selling pharmaceuticals in a market in the capital Jakarta, told AFP that high demand had pushed the price of the drug up to around 175,000 to 300,000 rupees (12 to 21 dollars) per bottle. “We are running out of supplies right now after many people have come to buy it,” he added.

Enthusiastic praise from popular online figures is helping to spur demand, lacking approval from the World Health Organization due to the lack of high-quality laboratory testing.

“Ivermectin is one of the safe and effective keys to ending the pandemic from various doctors, with ample scientific evidence,” wrote Reza Gunawan, a self-proclaimed “holistic health practitioner” to his 350,000 subscribers on Twitter.

Iman Sjafei, the co-founder of popular Indonesian media Asumsi, used the same platform to say that five acquaintances he knew had recovered from Covid after taking the drug. “Maybe a placebo. Perhaps. But it may also be true, “he added.

Indonesian tycoon and government minister Erick Thohir praised ivermectin and urged domestic production to tackle the current outbreak.

However, he said more tests are needed to verify its effectiveness against Covid-19 and urged users to get a prescription before taking the drug, which has won a Nobel Prize and has a strong safety profile after billion uses since it was first used to treat river blindness.

“I’m not a doctor, but amidst the desperation and hardship I think anything is worth trying,” said Susi Pudjiastuti, a former popular fisheries minister, who has 2.5 million followers. on Twitter.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte pressured regulators to approve the drug as a Covid treatment.

“There are a lot of credible people (…) who swear by the graves of their fathers that ivermectin is good for their bodies as they suffer from Covid,” Duterte recently told the head of the drug regulator from the country.

Ivermectin is being investigated by scientists at the University of Oxford as a possible Covid treatment in a UK government-backed study after a small pilot showed early administration of the drug could reduce viral load and duration of symptoms in some patients with mild Covid-19.

A doctor writes a prescription for human-grade capsules of the drug Ivermectin for a citizen during a free distribution campaign in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines. Photograph: Rolex dela Peña / EPA

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