Indonesians have ignored health warnings to stock up on a “miracle cure” for COVID-19 backed by leading politicians and social media influencers, as an out-of-control virus surge sweeps the country.
Authorities are reporting hundreds of deaths every day as the world’s fourth-most populous nation struggles with its worst outbreak since the pandemic began.
Pharmacies across the country are running out of ivermectin, an oral treatment normally used to treat lice and other parasitic infections, thanks in part to viral social media posts touting its potential as a Coronavirus treatment.
“Ivermectin is one of the safe and effective keys to ending the pandemic from various doctors, with lots of scientific evidence,” Reza Gunawan, a self-described “holistic health practitioner”, wrote to his 350,000 Twitter followers.
Fuelled by anti-vaccine and pandemic conspiracy theories online, there has been a surge in demand for the drug from Brazil to South Africa to Lebanon.
Scientists, the World Health Organization, and several drug regulators — including Indonesia’s own — have also stressed there is a lack of credible evidence to show it works against COVID-19.
The US Food and Drug Administration has even warned of the risks of taking ivermectin following reports of people being hospitalised after ingesting a version of the drug meant for horses.