Mexico City's Ministry of Health Criticized for Use of Ivermectin
Between 2020 and 2021, the government of Mexico City spent over MX$29 billion (US$1.45 billion) to buy non-authorized drugs to treat COVID-19 that were distributed in a COVID-19 Medical Kit as part of an experiment on the drug’s effectiveness. The distribution of medical kits has been criticized by both researchers and public officials, reports the medical journal BMJ.
The distribution of the kits, which contained ivermectin, began in Dec. 2020 and reached about 200,000 people with COVID-19. Aside from ivermectin, the kits contained aspirin and azithromycin, none of which had been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the treatment of COVID-19. These medications were also not approved by the Clinical Guide for the Treatment of COVID-19 in Mexico, as the federal Ministry of Health stated that ivermectin has not shown no benefit in the treatment of SARS-CoV-2.
To justify the distribution of such drugs, the Digital Agency for Public Innovation (ADIP), the local Ministry of Health (SEDESA) and the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS), reported that they had carried out a "quasi-experimental" analysis that showed that those who received ivermectin were 68 percent less likely to develop symptoms requiring hospitalization.
The paper for the experiment, published in the website SocArXiv, under the name “Ivermectin and the odds of hospitalization due to COVID-19: evidence from a quasi-experimental analysis based on a public intervention in Mexico City” was shared by José Merino, Head, ADIP, and co-author of the paper.
Among other reasons, the quasi-experiment has been criticized for failing to inform recipients of the experimental nature of the treatment but the paper claimed that the kits had a significant effect in reducing the probability of hospitalization. “Depending on the subsamples, the effect ranges from 50-76 percent difference in hospitalization odds between treated and untreated patients, statistically significant in all cases.”
However, SocArXiv withdrew the paper in Feb. 2022 with the statement: “The paper is spreading misinformation, promoting an unproved medical treatment in the midst of a global pandemic. The paper is part of, and justification for, a government program that unethically dispenses (or did dispense) unproven medication apparently without proper consent or appropriate ethical protections.” The paper had been posted in May 2021.
Recognized medical sources such as the British Medical Journal (BMJ) have also criticized the experiment on the drug´s effectiveness, labeling the experiment “unethical” because it failed to inform patients.
Deputy Minister of Health, Hugo López-Gatell, denied the experiment accusations against the government of Mexico City. “We are struck by this persistent use of a distorted truth, pointing out that Mexico City had conducted the experiment without the consent of the people, this has already been clarified, we are also clear about that, Mexico City did not conduct any experiment,” said Lopez-Gatell.
Merino also criticized SocArXiv’s response, stating that the work’s removal was “an indulgence in political innuendo rather than an examination of statistical evidence,” the response also states that the decision to remove the paper was based on “flawed arguments, a lack of understanding, and several false statements.”