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Ivermectin’s bumpy ride through America | International

The use of ivermectin against Covid-19 has been controversial around the world, fuelled by social media and celebrity proponents. Nominally an antiparasitic, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised against its use a few months after the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, and noted that more studies were needed to evaluate its effectiveness against the novel coronavirus. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency have followed the WHO’s line, but at least 10 Latin American countries authorized its use during the pandemic.

Japanese biochemist Satoshi Omura won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the discovery of ivermectin three decades earlier. The drug is highly effective against infections caused by worms and is commonly used as a topical solution to treat head lice. In the first few months of the pandemic, the world was desperately fighting against the then-unknown SARS-CoV-2, with no vaccines or treatments to turn to as the virus infected and killed thousands of people every day. Pharmaceutical companies and governments desperately searched for existing drugs that might work, and the low-cost ivermectin emerged as a potential option.

Most academics and international agencies did not jump on the bandwagon due to the lack of irrefutable evidence in the drug’s favor during the early days of the pandemic. At the extremes, ivermectin was variously seen as a “miracle drug” or completely useless against Covid-19. The United States has simultaneously become a bastion of skepticism about its use against the virus as well as a breeding ground for celebrity and social media promotion of the antiparasitic. “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it,” one FDA tweet read, alluding to ivermectin’s veterinary use in a bid to curb its consumption. Before the pandemic, doctors were handing out 3,600 prescriptions for human use each week. Six months ago, the figure was 88,000, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has warned of a sudden increase in demand.

In addition to the FDA, the National Institutes of Health, the American Medical Association and US pharmaceutical associations all advise against prescribing ivermectin for Covid, but that has not stopped vaccine skeptics taking it – with sometimes disastrous consequences. Last August, five people in Oregon were hospitalized for ivermectin poisoning, two of whom required intensive care.

“Ivermectin use has been irrational in many countries,” said biologist, chemist and pharmacologist Guillermo Barranco, an academic at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Barranco believes the drug has been misprescribed in terms of dose, which has led to unnecessary expense and demand for counterfeits. “Prescribing a drug is not easy,” he added. “It is not just a matter of saying ‘take it and that’s it.’ You need trained professionals.”

Brazil may offer the most pertinent example of ivermectin use and abuse in Latin America. The government of Jair Bolsonaro continues to defend using the drug against Covid-19, despite the raft of scientific evidence on its ineffectiveness and amid the deaths of 600,000 Brazilians from Covid-19. The issue remains highly politicized, and to this day the Brazilian Ministry of Health recommends so-called Covid kits, which include ivermectin and other discredited drugs such as chloroquine and azithromycin. Sales of ivermectin increased eightfold in the country during the first year of the pandemic.

A box of ivermectin in a file photo.
A box of ivermectin in a file photo.BENOIT TESSIER (Reuters)

In Peru, ivermectin has been authorized for the treatment of mild cases of Covid-19 since May 2020. Then-health minister Victor Zamora declared that one drop of the solution should be taken for every kilo the patient weighed, up to a maximum of 50 drops. Peru’s public health system also provided free “Covid kits” with the same medicines as in Brazil. Faced with the collapse of the country’s health system, thousands of people self-medicated with ivermectin in 2020, after doctors and dubious “experts” recommended it on radio programs. Some 5,000 people also took stronger doses intended for veterinary use, at the behest of evangelical groups.

Local media has reported that the Peruvian government bought 1,000% more ivermectin in 2020 than in previous years, and the official policy has ebbed and flowed as health officials rotated in and out. In February 2021, another former health minister, Pilar Mazzeti, commented there were “no definitive results” on the drug’s effects, but that doctors could “consider its use” after talking with a patient. The following month, the newly appointed (and current) Health Minister Óscar Ugarte cited the WHO in saying that studies of the antiparasitic drug “show that it does not have the positive effect it was supposed to have.” Health authorities withdrew ivermectin from its list of approved Covid-19 treatments in May 2021, but that does not mean that citizens have stopped taking it.

In line with its neighbors, Bolivia included ivermectin in its list of essential drug treatments against Covid-19 in May 2020, even though the government acknowledged that no scientific study confirmed its efficacy. The drug had become popular, especially in the east of the country, where it had long been used to combat parasites in animals and people. Its popularity has waned over time, as more and more people died despite being treated with the drug, while some doctors have warned of an increase in cases of poisoning, although there are no official statistics. As in most other countries on the continent, ivermectin’s use has also slowed since the rollout of vaccines. The latest Health Ministry guidelines in Bolivia do not recommend it directly, but several municipalities still distribute it free of charge and its use is still widespread among conspiracy theorists and vaccine skeptics.

Some smaller Latin American countries made very ambitious bets on the drug. Guatemala also handed it out in medical kits for the population at the end of 2020, along with ibuprofen, aspirin and vitamins C and D. “Be warned that there are veterinary drugs on the market containing ivermectin,” the authorities said at the time. “These are not authorized for human use because of the imminent risk they can cause to health.” Without adequate medical supervision, ivermectin can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, drops in blood pressure, allergic reactions, seizures, coma and even death, according to the FDA. Belize also authorized the antiparasitic’s use to treat Covid-19, including in severe cases, from December 2020 onwards. “It is a drug that has been used safely in humans and animals for many years,” explained Melissa Diaz-Musa, the country’s health minister, noting that the risks outweighed the benefits. “We found significant evidence that it helps reduce the replication of the virus,” she added to justify the decision and challenge the narrative that it was a so-called “miracle product.”

Panama went a step further and purchased around 450,000 doses of ivermectin in the first months of 2020, along with 2.9 million doses of hydroxychloroquine, as part of the now familiar self-medication kits, according to Nature magazine. The country later backtracked, and in December 2021 the government issued a communiqué advising citizens not to use the drugs to treat Covid-19: “The efficacy of these products against this virus has not been proven,” the statement said.

In Mexico, a dozen states and the federal district of the capital administered ivermectin, and it was an omnipresent drug in private doctors’ offices (and of some public sector doctors). “Everyone was prescribing it,” said Salvador Arteaga, a doctor in Mexico City, but added: “Many of us stopped handing it out because we saw no effects on our patients, especially in the severe cases.” The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued an order in August 2021 not to use ivermectin, and Mexico City authorities stopped distributing it, although they have defended their initial decision.

A stand in a market in Mexico City illegally selling medicines.
A stand in a market in Mexico City illegally selling medicines. Quetzalli Nicte Ha

In some countries, there are inconsistencies between national policy on the use of ivermectin and the strategy of some regional states. Ecuador has banned its use for Covid-19 treatment since February last year, but Cynthia Viteri, mayor of Guayaquil (the second most populated city in the country), became the main proponent of its use in 2021, when vaccines were still largely yet to arrive.

In Colombia, authorities have never officially recommended the use of ivermectin to treat Covid-19. As early as July 2020, President Iván Duque, who at the time had a daily television broadcast to report on the pandemic, asked the public to proceed with caution. “The Ministry of Health and Social Protection considers that in order to guarantee the effectiveness of the drug, we must wait for the results of controlled studies,” he said. That same summer, the mayor of Cali, physician Jorge Iván Ospina, defended its use, which became popular in what is the third-largest city in the country.

Ivermectin also found an ally in former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, one of the country’s most powerful men. Uribe said publicly that he had taken it to overcome the coronavirus on the advice of his doctors, in a cocktail that also included azithromycin, acetaminophen, vitamin C and plant extracts. In June 2021, the Colombian authorities issued an alert, reporting an increase in poisoning from consuming the antiparasitic.

In Argentina, the National Administration of Food, Drugs and Medical Technology (Anmat) also declined to recommend ivermectin as a Covid-19 treatment. The medicine approval body argues that there is insufficient evidence to validate its efficacy against the virus. The drug is not available in pharmacies in big cities such as Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Rosario and Mendoza, and doctors will not prescribe it. Anti-vaccine demonstrators pushing for its use are also markedly absent.

Nevertheless, clinical trials have been authorized in Argentina, and the Argentine Scientific Commission found that “the administration of ivermectin at a dose of 0.6 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight produces the fastest and deepest elimination of the virus when treatment is started in early stages.” However, it warned that this trial was not sufficiently representative and recommended further research. The drug remained banned by the national authorities after this result, but four of the country’s 23 provinces –Misiones, Corrientes, Tucumán and La Pampa – authorized its use in infected people and health personnel. Although certain European and Asian countries have granted partial authorizations and conducted ivermectin studies, the Americas have established themselves as one of the epicenters of hopes, failures and scandals over the use of ivermectin against the coronavirus.

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Africa’s Eswatini, one of the last absolute monarchies, holds an election without political parties | International

The small southern African nation of Eswatini held elections Friday to decide part of the makeup of its Parliament, even as its extremely wealthy king retains absolute power, political parties are banned and elected representatives can merely advise a monarch whose family has reigned supreme for 55 years.

Eswatini, wedged between South Africa and Mozambique, is the last absolute monarchy in Africa and one of the few remaining in the world. King Mswati III, 55, has been the monarch since 1986, when he became ruler days after his 18th birthday. His father was king for 82 years before him, although Eswatini only gained independence from Britain in 1968.

It was formerly known as Swaziland.

Parliamentary elections are held every five years. Candidates for the lower chamber, the House of Assembly, and for the Senate cannot belong to political parties, which were banned in 1973, and are nominated at a local level before they face a popular vote.

Mswati III appoints a minority of House of Assembly members, and the majority are elected. He appoints a majority of the Senate, the prime minister and other key members of the government.

As king, or the “Ngwenyama” — which means lion — Mswati III is sometimes advised by a council but has executive and legislative powers under law in the country of 1.2 million people and makes decisions by decree.

A little over 500,000 people were registered to vote in Friday’s election, the electoral body said. The African Union and the regional Southern African Development Community bloc sent observers.

Mswati has faced increased pro-democracy protests in recent years, but activists demanding reform encountered a harsh crackdown from police and security forces under the king’s control in June 2021, with dozens killed.

The push for reform has continued, focusing primarily on allowing political parties and for the prime minister to be democratically elected.

Two members of parliament were jailed for calling for democratic reforms during the 2021 protests. They were convicted this year under an anti-terrorism law that rights groups say is only designed to suppress criticism of Mswati and halt the push for democracy.

The lawmakers, Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, now face up to 20 years in prison, according to CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society groups.

Mswati has been accused of living lavishly while Eswatini’s people struggle with widespread poverty, the world’s highest HIV infection rate per capita and a life expectancy of 57 years, one of the lowest in the world.

A 2008 report by Forbes magazine estimated Mswati’s wealth at $200 million. He owns private jets, a fleet of luxury cars and reportedly wore a suit beaded with diamonds to his 50th birthday celebration. The king has at least 15 wives and has been criticized for using public money to build palaces for them.

In its latest assessment, the World Bank estimated that more than half of Eswatini’s people live on less than $3.65 a day.

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“The Creator”: A Glimpse Into A Future Defined By Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

By Cindy Porter

In “The Creator” visionary director Gareth Edwards thrusts us into the heart of a dystopian future, where the battle lines are drawn between artificial intelligence and the free Western world.

Set against the backdrop of a post-rebellion Los Angeles, the film grapples with pressing questions about the role of AI in our society.

A Glimpse into a Future Defined by Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

A Glimpse into a Future Defined by Artificial Intelligence (AI) Warfare

While the narrative treads familiar ground, it is timely, given the rising prominence of artificial intelligence in our daily lives.

A Fusion of Genres

Edwards embarks on an ambitious endeavor, blending elements of science fiction classics with contemporary themes.

The result is a cinematic stew reminiscent of James Cameron’s “Aliens” tinged with shades of “Blade Runner” a dash of “Children of Men,” and a sprinkle of “Akira” This concoction, while intriguing, occasionally veers toward familiarity rather than forging its own distinct identity.

Edwards’ Cinematic Journey

The British filmmaker, known for his foray into doomsday scenarios with the BBC docudrama “End Day” in 2005, has traversed a path from indie gem “Monsters” (2010) to the expansive Star Wars universe with “Rogue One” (2016).

“The Creator” marks another bold step in his repertoire. The film introduces compelling concepts like the posthumous donation of personality traits, punctuated by impactful visuals, and raises pertinent ethical dilemmas. It stands as a commendable endeavor, even if it occasionally falters in execution.

Navigating Complexity

In his pursuit of depth, Edwards at times stumbles into the realm of convolution, leaving the audience grappling with intricacies rather than immersing in the narrative.

While adept at crafting visual spectacles and orchestrating soundscapes, the film occasionally falters in the art of storytelling.

In an era where classic storytelling is seemingly on the wane, some may argue that this approach is emblematic of the times.

AI: Savior or Peril?

“The Creator” leaves us with a question that resonates long after the credits roll: Will artificial intelligence be humanity’s salvation or its undoing? The film’s take on machine ethics leans toward simplicity, attributing AI emotions to programmed responses.

This portrayal encapsulates the film’s stance on the subject – a theme as enigmatic as the AI it grapples with.

“The Creator”

Director: Gareth Edwards.
Starring: John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Madeleine Yuna Boyles, Ken Watanabe.
Genre: Science fiction.
Release Year: 2023.
Duration: 133 minutes.
Premiere Date: September 29.


Top 5 Movies by Gareth Edwards:

1. “Monsters” (2010)

– A breakout hit, “Monsters” showcases Edwards’ talent for blending intimate human drama with towering sci-fi spectacles. Set in a world recovering from an alien invasion, it’s a poignant tale of love amidst chaos.

2. “Rogue One” (2016)

– Edwards helms this epic Star Wars installment, seamlessly integrating new characters with the beloved original trilogy. It’s a testament to his ability to navigate complex narratives on a grand scale.

3. “End Day” (2005)

– This BBC docudrama marked Edwards’ entry into the world of speculative storytelling. Presenting five doomsday scenarios, it set the stage for his later exploration of dystopian futures.

4. “The Creator” (2023)

– Edwards’ latest venture, “The Creator,” immerses audiences in a future fraught with AI warfare. While not without its challenges, it boldly tackles pertinent questions about the role of artificial intelligence in our lives.

5. Potential Future Project

– As Edwards continues to push the boundaries of speculative cinema, audiences eagerly anticipate his next cinematic endeavor, poised to be another thought-provoking addition to his illustrious filmography.

“The Creator” stands as a testament to Gareth Edwards’ unyielding vision and his penchant for exploring the frontiers of speculative cinema.

While it doesn’t shy away from the complexities of AI, it occasionally falters in navigating its intricate narrative.

As we peer into this cinematic crystal ball, we’re left with a stark question: Will artificial intelligence be our beacon of hope, or will it cast a shadow over humanity’s future? Only time will unveil the answer.

We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!

— By Cindy Porter

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From YouTube to TikTok: The electoral weapons that Javier Milei has deployed in Argentina | International

Sergio Massa, Patricia Bullrich y Javier Milei
From left to right, Sergio Massa, Patricia Bullrich and Javier Milei.EFE / Getty

The far-right Javier Milei, 52, has become the favored candidate to win the October 22 presidential elections in Argentina… even though he has barely toured the country.

Milei —an economist and TV panellist by profession— visited 13 of the 24 provinces during the primaries, yet still won in more than half of the provinces he didn’t visit. Among them, the case of Salta was especially surprising. In the northern Andean province – where he achieved his best result – 49.38% of the voters voted for him in the mid-August primaries. Milei has been called the “candidate of television studios,” because he rose from being a talk show host to a member of Congress in less than five years. But you could also call him the YouTube and TikTok candidate, because, if social media is the new public square, Javier Milei is shouting the loudest.

No other candidate for the presidency has managed to dominate the discourse of social media like the far-right economist does – especially with so little effort and even fewer staffers.

Patricia Bullrich —the candidate of the traditional right— remains the most popular on Twitter. Sergio Massa —the current Minister of Economy and the presidential candidate for the left-wing Peronist alliance— is Facebook’s favorite. But Milei dominates Instagram and TikTok, the preferred spaces of voters under the age of 29, who make up a third of the electorate. He’s also the most popular candidate on YouTube… although not because of the content put out by his official channels.

“Around the world, the parties that are linked to the right have a special place in social media. In Argentina, this is the case of La Libertad Avanza (Liberty Advances, a far-right coalition) and its leader, Javier Milei,” explains Ana Slimovich, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires. For the researcher, this is because these political forces “construct discourses with simple language, which isn’t technical… it appeals to emotions, both positive and negative ones.” Milei began his campaign by comparing himself to a lion who came “to awaken other lions, not to guide the sheep.” Today, he walks around Buenos Aires with a chainsaw —a symbol of the cuts to the public sector that he intends to implement should he take office.

Milei, Slimovich notes, has grown strong because of the sporadic organization that his followers have built, including those beyond the party’s structure. Accounts like @elPelucaMilei or @MileiPresidente have almost a million followers and act as the most important spokespeople for the libertarian. They have almost four times more followers than Milei’s official channel, getting millions of views from videos that they cut, edit and publish. The most popular ones are the clips of television interviews with titles celebrating how Milei “destroyed” or “annihilated” journalists or political opponents in live debates.

“Even if the candidate isn’t present, they’re reproducing his speech,” Slimovich says. “This explains the [high number of votes] he gets in places where he’s not physically present. His followers on social media are always present, resharing his speeches. And, of course, the mass media also disseminates his content.” The same thing happens on TikTok, Instagram or Twitter, where online libertarian militants churn out viral memes that Milei often shares.

Agustín Romo – director of digital communications and a congressional candidate for La Libertad Avanza – states that only about 15 people work for pay in the libertarian campaign, but that “90% of the content is produced ad honorem.” For Romo, Milei’s victory in places he has never visited “sets the tone for an epochal change in the way of doing politics.”

Milei jumped into politics from the world of TV. With this background, he then imposed his anti-establishment fury on the political debate and amplified it via social media. In the last year, the country began to talk about the dollarization of the economy or the sale of organs —subjects that Milei brought to the table. “We use social media to install our own narrative and our agenda. If we put out a song in the morning, at night, everyone is talking about it,” Romo laughs.

The digital strategist believes that his candidate’s success in getting his agenda out there has two ingredients. On the one hand, Milei projects a message that connects with the electorate. This discourse among candidates —who present themselves as “outsiders” who aren’t really part of the political system— was successful for Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. Milei often says that the “decadence” of the country is the product of a “political caste (or class)” that prioritizes its interests “at the expense of the people.” On the other hand, the consultant continues, the “libertarian movement” has been brewing for “10 years,” but “it had no political representation” until Javier Milei arrived on the scene.

The leading presidential candidate is also advised by Fernando Cerimedo —a major figure in digital communications among the Latin American extreme-right. A report published by the Latin American Center for Journalistic Investigation (CLIP) revealed that the consultant has spread “messages based on lies in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.” Cerimedo was one of the great agitators behind the accusation —presented without evidence— that Lula da Silva won the recent presidential elections in Brazil only because of electoral fraud. Some of this influence has already been seen in Milei’s campaign. On August 13 —despite being the candidate with the most votes in the primaries— Milei insisted that votes had been stolen from him.

Among the left-wing Peronist coalition, they admit that they’ve started this campaign with a disadvantage. Their candidate was announced as a surprise: Minister of Finance Sergio Massa —who has been in politics since 1999— was proclaimed “as a unity candidate” on June 23. He opened his TikTok account days later. “This happened to us when [Massa] contested the presidency in 2015 —Mauricio Macri’s campaign (which ultimately won) had a better-developed social media campaign. We balanced it out, but we were far behind. We prioritize other forms, other types of campaigning,” a member of the campaign tells EL PAÍS.

Sergio Massa’s advisors say that they still see a scenario of the vote being divided into thirds, but that “the most stark polarization is with Milei.” Massa’s social media campaign is now being supported by Lula da Silva’s advisors, who have joined the Spanish consultant Antoni Gutiérrez Rubí. “They came to share their experiences with us about the two elections that they had to fight against Bolsonaro: the one that Fernando Haddad lost [in 2018] and the one that Lula won [in 2022]. They’re working with us on the possibility of reaching the runoff [election] in November.”

In Massa’s race to attract young voters, the latest to join the campaign on TikTok has been the current vice president (and former president from 2007 until 2015), Cristina Kirchner. The main representative of the Peronist movement opened her account this past Monday and has already uploaded dozens of videos. Ironically, less than five months ago, she urged young people to not spend more than “20 minutes a day on TikTok.”

Massa’s left wing coalition —made up of traditional parties that are accustomed to large street events and rallies— is beginning to make its presence more known online. The current president, Alberto Fernández —who decided against seeking re-election— recently answered questions with his dog on Instagram. And Massa has begun to announce his economic proposals via short videos tailored to social media. His younger supporters and party members were the ones who encouraged him.

After Milei’s victory in the primaries, a group of young Peronists began to reflect on their poor communications strategy and created a TikTok account —@Indisciplinadxs— to create a “new space” in the campaign. “Social media is a disputed territory where we’re not fighting. And, if we’re fighting, we’re doing so incorrectly,” lament two members of @Indisciplinadxs. A recent video —in which they showed how voters are misinformed on a certain topic— went viral and reached 166,000 people. “The battle on social media shouldn’t be considered lost,” they insist. “The field is wide-open — there are ways to take advantage of it.”

Patricia Bullrich —the candidate for the traditional center-right Together for Change coalition— is also staking out her place in the presidential race. She won her party primaries against the current mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. Bullrich deployed a “tough-on-crime” rhetoric, while Larreta, a moderate, prioritized dialogue and centrist policies. While Bullrich ultimately emerged triumphant, the question remains whether she can retain the votes of her formal rival, while trying to take on Massa and Milei, who have mostly focused their attacks on each other.

Her social media consultants are taking a careful look at her opposition. “I’m not looking at everything that Massa put out online as much, because what Milei does is more striking,” explains Yasmin Hassan, Bullrich’s principal advisor. The most positive element that Hassan sees in her party is similar to what Milei has going for him: an organic bloc of adherents who, of their own free will, circulate information for the campaign. They call the movement “Bullrichmania” —it consists of groups of self-convened online warriors, who spread information via WhatsApp groups.

Bullrich —who served as security minister under President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019)— has focused on pointing out the corruption that has taken place in the Kirchnerist governments: from 2003 until 2007, when Néstor Kirchner governed, from 2007 until 2015, when his wife, Cristina, governed, as well as the present administration, where she serves as vice president.

The bulk of her interactions on social media are with voters who similarly point out the corruption or bad policies of the ruling party.

Last week, a criminal court reopened two corruption cases against the former president and current VP. Immediately, Bullrich released her latest campaign video: in one minute, she revealed the model of a new maximum security prison for criminals that, she promised, will have a wing that is named after Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The candidate got what she was looking for: on Saturday, while Kirchner was speaking at her first public appearance in months, the video was already trending.

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