A doctor in Kenya who advised citizens against getting vaccinated has died from coronavirus.
Stephen Karanja, who served as the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association chairman, advised mask-wearing and mass testing as the most effective ways to stamp out the pandemic, clashing with local bishops who have been urging Kenyans to get inoculated.
The Catholic Health Comission reported the controversial doctor — whose age is not publicly known — was admitted to hospital last week before succumbing to the respiratory disease on April 29.
Karanja remained staunch the current global rollout of the fast-tracked vaccine was "totally unnecessary, making the motivation suspect".
He instead endorsed alternative treatments for Covid-19, including hydroxychloroquine and the hotly-debated Ivermectin.
"There are drugs that have been repurposed and used effectively to treat Covid-19," he said in a March statement.
"We advise that a Covid-19 vaccine is unnecessary and should not be given. We appeal to all the people of Kenya to avoid taking it."
Kenyan Roman Catholic Bishop Philip Anyolo openly opposed the doctor's claim, insisting the rollout is being carried out in a "objective and well-co-ordinated manner" in Kenya.
"It should be noted that those doctors cannot and should not purport to speak in the name of the Catholic Church. We, the Catholic bishops in Kenya, avail our vast network of healthcare facilities to be utilised to ensure the vaccination is rolled out in an objective and well-co-ordinated manner," Anyolo said via Kenyan news outlet Tuko.
WHO attempted to dispel concerns raised by Karanja in March, stressing to the public the vaccine had been rigorously reviewed and deemed safe by "stringent regulatory authorities".
Karanja had a history of controversy over his opinions on public health issues and vaccination campaigns, publicly opposing the vaccination of schoolgirls against cervical cancer in 2019.
Karanja said the jab against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) was unnecessary because it affected those "whose lifestyle involves irresponsible sexual behaviours".
He was also a strong anti-abortion campaigner, appearing in court to testify against the government changing of abortion guidelines in 2018.
In 2014, he gained attention after declaring a nationwide rollout of a tetanus vaccination, claiming it was a sterilising campaign against women.
Debate over Ivermectin
Ivermectin is a medication used to treat many types of parasite infestations including head lice and scabies.
Its effectiveness in treating coronavirus is currently under hot debate between medical professionals and politicians globally.
In April 2020, Australian researchers published results from a laboratory experiment suggesting Ivermectin could stop the Sars-CoV-2 virus from multiplying in animal cells under a microscope.
"This discovery was exciting, however even the researchers themselves have cautioned that this one study is not enough to prove the medicine will work against Covid-19 in humans," NPS MedicineWise said in an article detailing new information on ivermectin.
Independent MP Craig Kelly attracted attention online this month over his endorsement of the treatment before having his Facebook account banned for "repeated spreading of misinformation".
WHO officials believe results on Ivermectin's effectiveness are still inconclusive after conducting 16 randomised trials with a panel of independent clinical experts.
"They determined that the evidence on whether ivermectin reduces mortality, need for mechanical ventilation, need for hospital admission and time to clinical improvement in Covid-19 patients is of "very low certainty," the WHO's official statement read.
The debate over ivermectin is raging in South Africa, where demand for the drug - which is only registered to treat parasites in animals - has inflated the price fifteen fold after a number doctors began prescribing it in mid-2020.
Professor Nathi Mdladla, head of the intensive care unit at Durban's George Mukhari Academic Hospital, said the demand for medical practitioners to try alternative treatments grew incredibly quickly as bodies piled up during the peak of the pandemic.
"The fight is about the quality of the studies that have been done so far. What we're saying is that in a pandemic, you can never be in a position to actually generate these high-level, long studies, because it means in the meantime, you watch people die," Mdladla said.
But South African critical care specialist Rietze Rodseth says the evidence is simply too weak for high-ranking public health officials to endorse.
"I'm quite surprised by everybody's petitioning and going on about the wonders of this drug. The evidence base and quality of the studies done so far are pretty weak. We simply do not have enough evidence to say yes this works," he told the BBC.