Tamil Nadu

For COVID-19 drugs, patients pay a heavy price

An agonising wait: Many people don’t mind spending the night on the pavement at the Government Kilpauk Medical College, Chennai, to buy Remdesivir.   | Photo Credit: JOTHI RAMALINGAM B

Like last year, non-availability of drugs used in the treatment of COVID-19, hoarding and illegal sale of drugs have surfaced in many parts of Tamil Nadu. Relatives of patients are travelling far and wide to Chennai to get Remdesivir, while a number of them are paying exorbitant rates to get the drugs.

The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and requiring hospitalisation is on the rise across the State. In such a situation, drugs such as Remdesivir are unavailable in a number of private hospitals, and the growing demand has led to blackmarketing.

A patient from Tiruchi was instructed by a doctor to travel to Chennai to buy Remdesivir at the counter established at the Government Kilpauk Medical College Hospital. “Why can’t they have such counters across all districts?” the patient’s attender asked. They were told that the counter dispensed only 500 vials a day, and since their token number was 526, they were asked to return the next day. “We were unable to wait. So, we returned to Tiruchi and paid ₹12,000 per vial of Remdesivir,” she said.

“Apart from paying a huge amount, we also put ourselves at risk of contracting the infection while travelling to Chennai and waiting in line,” she added.

₹1 lakh for 6 vials

A volunteer who has been working to help procure Remdesivir and other medication for patients in Tiruchi said that while six vials of Remdesivir should cost ₹15,000-₹20,000, hospitals that had stocked the medicine were charging up to ₹1 lakh.

In Madurai, there is a shortage in the availability of Remedesivir and Tocilizumab across government and private hospitals.

Sources in the Government Rajaji Hospital (GRH) said though the government was supplying medicines to the hospital, it was still not sufficient to meet the growing demand.

J. Alexander Romario, a resident of Dindigul, has admitted his uncle at the GRH and his father at a private hospital in Madurai for COVID-19 treatment.

“Both of them have been severely infected and are under oxygen support. But both the hospitals say that there is no availability of Remedesivir. While I tried sourcing the medicine from a few friends in Chennai, all my efforts have turned futile,” he said.

Black market

The growing demand has resulted in medicines being sold in the black market at exorbitant rates. According to sources, a vial of Remedesvir was sold at around ₹10,000 in the black market.

A.K. Sivakumar, senior general manager of Devadoss Hospital, said that although they were able to procure medicines from the suppliers, there was a delay in obtaining these medicines. Varun Ramamurthy, consultant intensivist, Corona Care team, Velammal Medical College Hospital and Research Institute, said that many family members of COVID-19 patients were insisting on providing these drugs to patients even when it was not necessary.

No shortage

Sources in the Health Department in Coimbatore said that availability of Remdesivir had improved in government and private hospitals across the district with no reports of acute shortage surfacing in the past week. Each unit of Remdesivir was being sold for ₹3,490 in the district.

The Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation (TNMSC) is expected to soon establish a counter in Coimbatore to sell drugs for the treatment of COVID-19, including Remdesivir.

No complaints of hoarding or blackmarketing were reported in Coimbatore district so far.

Regarding the imported drug Tocilizumab, the sources said that TNMSC ordered the allocation of this drug to 19 private institutions on Wednesday, of which five were in Coimbatore. These hospitals were allocated six units of Tocilizumab each. The TNMSC has ordered the hospitals to procure Tocilizumab after paying ₹33,956.44 per vial by Saturday, according to the sources.

Counter at Salem

The Government Mohan Kumaramangalam Medical College Hospital in Salem has sufficient stock of Remdesivir, but attenders of patients in some private hospitals in the district travel to Chennai to procure medicines from the KMC. A sales counter would soon be established at Kumaramangalam Hospital to avoid this trouble.

Officials of the Drugs Control Department said they were closely monitoring the movement of every vial of Remdesivir in the State. “There is no Remdesivir manufacturing in Tamil Nadu as of date. It is supplied from States, such as Maharashtra and Gujarat. The drugs are distributed to the stockists, and again, the inspectors conduct a check on the stock received, distributed and stock in hand,” an official said.

(Serena Josephine M. with inputs from Kathelene Antony in Tiruchi, P. A. Narayani in Madurai, R. Akileish in Coimbatore and Vignesh Vijayakumar in Salem)

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Printable version | Jun 22, 2021 5:44:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/covid-19-patients-pay-a-high-price-for-remdesivir/article34510419.ece

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