A new study from Ecuador shows the impressive effect of ivermectin, the wonder drug that has just granted the Nobel prize to discoverers, on a deadly intestinal parasite. Unfortunately ivermectin is not available for those most in need.
Ivermectin is a very effective drug to fight against parasitic diseases like filarial worms, among them the worm of the "river blindness", Onchocerca volvulus, and the one causing elephantiasis (a monstrous swelling of the limbs), Wuchereria bancrofti.
The importance of this drug has been recently acknowledged with the assignment of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to its discoverers, William C. Campbell and Satoshi Omura.
A new scientific paper just published by researchers from Ecuador, Italy and the WHO in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, has demonstrated for the first time that the regular, mass administration of ivermectin has not only eliminated the river blindness from the country, but also significantly reduced the prevalence of Strongyloides stercoralis. This is a worm that is highly prevalent in many areas of the world and may cause severe consequences with a high mortality, in particular, to patients debilitated by other diseases or taking drugs that impair the immune system, including cortisone. The study by Mariella Anselmi (CECOMET Esmeraldas, Ecuador, and Center for Tropical Diseases, Negrar, Italy) and colleagues, conducted in Ecuador over a period of 25 years (from 1990 to 2014), showed that in the rural communities where ivermectin was regularly administered once or twice a year to the whole population for the river blindness, Strongyloides also virtually disappeared, while in neighboring communities where ivermectin was not distributed (because the river blindness was not present) the worm still affected (and affects) a large part of the population. The difference has remained up to now, more than 7 years after the last pill of ivermectin was given for the river blindness. Moreover, ivermectin showed an effect on other intestinal parasites. Paradoxically, since the conclusion of the program of river blindness control, ivermectin is no longer available in the country, as the drug manufacturer, the company MSD, has strictly limited the drug donation to the control of the filarial worms. The same is true worldwide, meaning that ivermectin, that has the potential of eradicating deadly parasites, is not available to millions of children and adults in need.
At short term, the authors of this study urge MSD to continue the donation program, and more importantly, to extend the donation to cover all the indications of the drug, and not only filarial worms. In fact, the wonder drug also cures scabies, pediculosis, and might even become a crucial weapon for the control of malaria and dengue, because of its toxic effect to mosquitoes transmitting these diseases. At medium-long term, the authors also encourage other drug manufacturers to produce ivermectin as a generic drug at affordable price, both for mass usage in parasite control programs in endemic countries, and for individual patient care.