By Monica Machicao and Carlos Vargas

TRINIDAD (Reuters) – Officials in the Bolivian city of Trinidad launched a campaign on Monday to give out free doses of the anti-parasite drug ivermectin in a bid to combat the coronavirus in the country’s hard-hit eastern region.

Authorities will go house-to-house to pass out some 350,000 doses of the drug to residents in the region of Beni, where Trinidad is the capital. The area has 581 confirmed cases and 41 coronavirus-related deaths.

The South American nation has been under a country-wide lockdown for about two months.

Ivermectin has won support among officials in Trinidad.

The Ministry of Health said it can be used under proper medical protocol, while noting the lack of evidence for it as a treatment for COVID-19 – the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

“It is a product that does not have scientific validation in the treatment of the coronavirus,” Health Minister Marcelo Navajas told local media. “It does serve to treat parasitic diseases and other types of diseases. Therefore, we ask our medical colleagues who are going to use this product to do so with informed consent.”

An Australian study found that ivermectin can kill the coronavirus in 48 hours in a laboratory setting. The study did not include human testing.

Many people in Beni said they were willing to try the drug.

“We are afraid of testing positive for coronavirus because of the constant deaths that are seen every day in Trinidad. We have faith and we believe that ivermectin has made my mother improve,” said Yara Zampeira, a resident of Beni.

Ivermectin is used to treat roundworms, threadworms and other parasites. There is also a formulation used to de-worm animals. Health officials have cautioned that people not take the version intended for animals.

Bolivia has more than 4,200 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 174 deaths, according government data.

(Reporting by Monica Machicao and Carlos Vargas; additional reporting by Daniel Ramos; writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Bill Berkrot)