Herman van der Westhuizen was a father to three and had five grandchildren. Image: Supplied.
Herman van der Westhuizen was a father to three and had five grandchildren. Image: Supplied.

’My dad died from Covid-19 while waiting for ivermectin application approval’

By Kelly Jane Turner Time of article published Feb 19, 2021

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A man from Plettenberg Bay died of Covid-19 while his family waited on the hope that his application for the use of ivermectin would be approved.

Tanya Johnson lost her father, Herman van der Westhuizen, 62, after a month-long battle with the virus. He passed away on 31 January, two weeks after his application for the use of ivermectin was sent to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).

His application has still not been approved despite the health regulator saying in a press release in January: “Sahpra undertakes to respond to all applications for individual, named patient access within 24 hours”.

Van der Westhuizen, who was laid to rest on 6 February, was a father of three and had five grandchildren. He was a civil engineer and had his own business maintaining roads.

Johnson said: “I can’t say that he died because we couldn’t get ivermectin, but they should have just given us that chance. We went through all the right channels and I didn’t go and buy ivermectin on the black market,” she said.

When her father was experiencing severe symptoms, Johnson contacted Dr Naseeba Kathrada to assist her with a Section 21 application.

Kathrada has been at the forefront of the ivermectin debate in the country and together with a group of 55 doctors and medical practitioners, called “I can make a difference”, she has taken legal action against Sahpra and the Minister of Health.

The case is set to be heard on 22 February in the Pretoria High Court.

Sahpra spokesperson Yuven Gounden said it has taken time to process the flood of applications, but they are being dealt with within current time lines.

“From the start of the programme till 17 February 2021, there have been 121 applications – 78 applications have been approved; 41 applications have been rejected; 2 are duplicate applications. Sahpra is of the opinion that the programme is running well,” he said.

Johnson said: “It just felt like all the systems let us down. We were let down by private hospitals, we were let down by private doctors, we were let down with the Section 21 application.

’’It’s like, no matter how much money you have, it just doesn’t seem to matter. If they don’t want to respond to you, you’ve got no power over it. There’s nothing you can do”.

Ivermectin continues to be an unregistered product according to Sahpra, however doctors can apply to access the drug for human use if they submit a Section 21 application.

Sahpra announced last month it will allow a controlled, compassionate access programme for use of ivermectin to treat Covid-19. The access programme emphasises that doctors or healthcare facilities must submit a Section 21 application for each patient requiring the drug.

When asked if she would file another Section 21 application if she or one of her family members were to contract Covid-19, Johnson said it wouldn’t matter because she wouldn’t get the application approved by Sahpra.

“I would rather buy it on the black market than try go through that again,” she said.

Johnson said her father started feeling sick on 1 January. At first they thought his symptoms could have been complications from his high blood glucose reading and emphysema, which is a lung condition that causes shortness of breath.

A week later he was admitted to the Plettenberg Bay Mediclinic, where he tested positive for Covid-19.

Herman van der Westhuizen passed away from Covid-19 while waiting for an ivermectin application approval. Image: Supplied.

“We received no help at the Plett hospital, the doctor even refused to talk to us and they didn’t have a ventilator strong enough to support him. We then moved my dad to a hospital in Port Elizabeth and we had to pay for the ambulance.”

Johnson said she heard about ivermectin from online news and started doing her own research.

“I personally contacted Dr Pierre Kory, the lung specialist from America and he was willing to phone my doctor and speak to him, but my doctor wasn’t willing to risk his career and give my father ivermectin. I also spoke to South African general practitioner Wikus Nienaber,” she said.

Dr Kathrada said in a legal document that on 19 January that she completed two other Section 21 applications.

She told IOL that yesterday her first bulk application was approved, however there is no legal stock of the drug available.

“They talk of making it available and that it can be used in an emergency, but there’s no (legal) stock anywhere that we can access currently,” she said.

Many other doctors across the country have waited close to three weeks to have their application approved.

Here is a list of some of the doctors part of the “I can make a difference” in South Africa who applied for Section 21 but have yet to receive a response:

  • Dr Mahmood Jagot made an application for self-prophylactic or a preventative measure on 31 January and has yet to receive a response
  • Dr Karla Hechter-Schulz made one application and has yet to receive a response
  • Dr Susanna Venter made two applications and hasn’t received a response from Sahpra. She said the application process is lengthy and takes time away from her patients
  • Dr Aqeela Chohan submitted an application on 31 January and hasn’t receive a response
  • Dr Mashra Gani submitted a “tedious and complicated application” on 31 January
  • Dr Christina Liebenberg submitted an application on 31 January and hasn’t received a response
  • Dr Lekha Judgeo also submitted on 31 January and received no response

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