A 35-year-old M Joshi (name changed) in Bhayandar, Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), along with his six-member family (except for his father) all have been tested positive for COVID-19. Their woes do not end there. He is hit by another issue that is shortage of antiviral drug Remdesivir and Tocilizumab. He had to go pillar to post in terms of finding this drug.

Speaking to The Free Press Journal, a friend of Joshi, said, “While the case of his family members are not that severe, his (Joshi) case is severe. Yet he has to make calls after calls for the drugs.”

There is a shortage of the drugs at least for the ones that are supplied by Cipla, a drug manufacturer. While there are generic drugs available, it is not easy to get access to them. Adding to this shortage is the cost attached to this drug is Rs 4,000 per 100 mg vial, which makes sales of the product in the black market a lot more attractive. “The medicines are sold at over Rs 10,000 per vial, ” added a source.

At present, Cipla and Hetero have been supplying the drug in Indian market. In addition, Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, Zydus Cadila and Jubilant Life as well has signed a non-exclusive licensing agreement Gilead Sciences. However, the production of Remdesivir has not been able to meet the demand. As per the agreement, these companies have the right to register, manufacture and sell Gilead’s drug, Remdesivir in India. Some companies have received the right to sell it in other countries as well.

Tocilizumab, a drug manufactured by Roche, is also in short supply. In India, it is imported and marketed by Cipla. It is estimated that black market is selling this medicine for Rs. 45,000 to even 1,00,000 per injection dosage. A stockist said, “I gave a patient the medication at reduced cost as I lost someone due to drug shortage.”

The shortage of these drugs is felt across other countries as well. A while back the world was suffering and the only country that would help them was India with its (then termed) game-changer drug, Hydroxychloroquine. However, today India forgo Hydroxychloroquine and embraced Remdesivir. It has to be noted that study by The New England Journal of Medicines showed that Remdesivir may have helped shorten the course of illness. However, this medicine will not be enough to treat critical patients of COVID-19. A study by Henry Ford System on Hydroxychloroquine found that Hydroxychloroquine reduced mortality. It has to be seen why Remdesivir has suddenly listed in most of the prescriptions, when there are other generic drugs in the market which was helping the non-critical COVID-19 patients. A friend of Shah added, “A stockist informed me that there are generic medicines available. But there is an hesitation to buy those as that has not be prescribed by the doctor. I am still clueless on why are such high-priced medicine suggested when there is low-cost cheaper medicines already in market, which was helping recovery of patients.”

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Free Press Journal