A number of private hospitals, especially those outside Chennai, are finding it difficult to access remdesivir and tocilizumab, used in the treatment of COVID-19.
A section of doctors said only limited stocks of the drugs were available in the market, and there had been instances of dealers quoting high prices.
In the past few days, there have been instances of relatives of patients and doctors at private hospitals seeking help to get the drugs in different parts of the State.
The Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation (TNMSC) has ordered 1,02,500 vials of remdesivir and 6,500 vials of tocilizumab so far, and has supplied them to government hospitals across the State. “We help out private hospitals too. TNMSC has provided around 130 vials of remdesivir and tocilizumab to private hospitals across the State so far,” an official said.
A senior government doctor in Madurai said a few corporate hospitals had a minimal stock of these drugs, while smaller hospitals did not have any. “Most of these hospitals manage with the available stock. They treat mild cases and refer severe cases to government hospitals. We have found that tocilizumab is effective and life-saving, while remdesivir is also good,” he said. He pointed out that black market sales were already happening, and the drugs were priced at double or triple their cost.
C.N. Raja, president of the Indian Medical Association, Tamil Nadu Branch, said it was very difficult for private hospitals in many places to get the drugs. “Very limited stock is available in the market. Some dealers quoted high rates. For instance, dealers quoted a heavy price of ₹20,000 to ₹25,000 for remdesivir, which is priced below ₹5,000,” he said.
Recently, two doctors in Theni and Nagercoil, who were admitted to private hospitals, had no access to these drugs and had to be shifted to government hospitals, where they received them. Inquiries in various districts, including Erode, Coimbatore, Salem and Tiruchi, did not help, he said.
“It is not easy to get the drugs for patients admitted to private hospitals. However, the Directorate of Medical and Rural Health Services has said we can get them through TNMSC. But this is not practically viable. Instead, the government can indent for the drugs and supply them to private hospitals. We have a drugs control mechanism, and the government should cap the cost of these drugs,” Mr. Raja said.
J. Amalorpavanathan, a vascular surgeon who received a call for help recently, said these drugs could be made available at dispensaries run by the Central and State governments.
A representative of a drugs manufacturers’ association pointed out that the drugs were being supplied only to hospitals. A government pharmacist felt that the risk of black marketeering was high under the present circumstances. “There is a lack of regulation governing how patients admitted to private hospitals can access these drugs. A prescription could be provided to the relative [of the patient] and his/her identity could be ascertained through a government identity card. With this, the drugs could be purchased,” he said.
Officials of the Directorate of Drugs Control have not received any complaints of high pricing thus far. “While TNMSC has stocks of the two drugs for supply to government hospitals, there is direct supply from the wholesale dealer to private hospitals where COVID-19 patients are admitted. Action can be taken if patients find out that the hospital has charged them excessively for the two drugs,” an official said.