For the first time in three days, Shaikh Waheed heaved a sigh of relief as he tightly held a thermocol box containing six vials of Remdesivir- the anti-viral injection used to treat severe Covid patients. Waheed and his wife have been shuttling between private hospitals to look after three family members battling for their lives.
“I managed to get only six vials of Remdesivir for Rs 20,400, but I need 18 more. How will I arrange them in a short span of time? For now, I am going to give it to my sister who is critical”, Waheed said as he flipped through prescriptions to show a list of medicines prescribed by doctors. He has also been searching for another sought-after drug Tocilizumab, which like Remdesivir, has also been pushed out of the market owing to high demand.
On Monday, hundreds of relatives, and friends of Covid-19 patients from different districts, jostled outside Hetero pharma in Moosapet- the only retail outlet which had restocked Remdesivir almost after a gap of five days.
Most of them had received WhatsApp forwards about the availability of the drug and immediately rushed to the retail store as early as 6 AM, but not all were lucky.
Sixty-five-year old Srinivas had stood at the far end of the queue and had to return home empty-handed. He broke down as he once again failed to procure the drug for his wife, who is on oxygen support.
“I’m having sleepless nights thinking how to save my wife. I don’t mind shelling out extra cash but I need at least three vials at any cost”, Srinivas said as tears welled up in his eyes.
Six vials of Remdesivir produced by Hetero Healthcare ltd costs around Rs 20,940, but many have already turned to black market where high-end drugs are being sold for anywhere between Rs 50,000 to 2 lakh, with cash being the only mode of payment.
“My mother is critically ill. Almost all medical stores in Hyderabad are out of Remdesivir. I had no choice but to pay 1 lakh to a middleman for three bottles of Remdesivir,” a patient’s kin said requesting anonymity. “The same dealer is now charging extra money for three other vials”, he added.
Like other states, Telangana has also written to the Union Health Ministry over shortage of medicines and vaccines. The state’s health minister Eatala Rajender and IT Minister KT Rama Rao called on Remdesivir manufacturers to scale up production.
But the Central government has maintained that the “drug is available in plentiful” and that the panic has been triggered by “irrational use of the drug” by doctors.
According to VK Paul, head of India’s Covid-19 task force, Remdesivir is to be used only on hospitalised patients who are on oxygen support.
In India, only seven companies are authorised to manufacture Remdesivir- Cadila Healthcare Ltd, Syngene International Ltd, Dr Reddy’s Labs, Cipla Ltd, Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Jubiliant Generics and Hetero Healthcare Ltd. The Central government has currently banned the export of Remdesivir to cope up with rising demands.
Union Minister Mansukh Mandaviya assured that Remdesivir’s production will be doubled in the next 15 days from the existing capacity of 1.5 lakh vials a day but officials within the Telangana state health department have expressed concerns over the distribution process.
“There is an acute shortage of high-end medicines, we fear that if the central government doesn’t ramp up production of Remdesivir and evenly distributes it to all states, then the situation will get chaotic”, said an official requesting anonymity.