COVID-19: Mumbai hospitals, kin of patients scramble to find remdesivir drug

Updated: Jul 01, 2020, 07:48 IST | Arita Sarkar | Mumbai

After getting approval to launch the drug last week, only one of the two firms has started the sale but the supply is limited

The BMC is working to procure 11,800 vials of the drug by the end of this week
The BMC is working to procure 11,800 vials of the drug by the end of this week

Hospitals and patients' relatives are struggling to find remdesivir, the drug shown to shorten the recovery time for severely ill COVID-19 patients, as it is still not easily available in the city. The BMC has started the process to purchase the antiviral drug for civic-run hospitals, but the supply is limited, as only one of the two pharmaceutical companies with permission to launch the drug has begun the sale.

Last week, Hasan Shaikh from Thane ran from one pharmacy to another in search of remdesivir for his critically ill friend, who was undergoing treatment at a hospital in Thane. Finally, after two days, the 44-year-old found the drug at a Bandra West pharmacy. "The doctor wrote a prescription for him since he was in a critical condition and the hospital didn't have remdesivir. We tried at several pharmacies in Thane but to no avail. After reaching out to everyone I could think of, someone told me that I could purchase it from the pharmacy in Lilavati Hospital," said Shaikh. He bought seven vials of the drug at R4,000 each. However, it didn't help his 52-year-old diabetic friend, who died on Monday.

Hukumraj Mehta, Maharashtra State Chemist and Drug Association president, pointed out that the experimental drug has been in the market for over a week, but none of the government hospitals have purchased any. "Most of the private hospitals that have an in-house pharmacy are able to purchase remdesivir. However, patients at government and smaller hospitals are struggling to find it. Individual patients approach me and I help them find some. Critical patients need this medication. What is the government waiting for?" asked Mehta.

Another problem the individuals are facing is the inflated prices for the drug, thanks to the unregulated sale. The relative of a 65-year-old patient being treated at Raheja Hospital in Mahim bought six vials at R8,000 each. "The hospital was trying to get it and asked us to try as well, but remdesivir isn't easily available. We made several calls, and one person said he would sell us 11 vials for R3 lakh, but it would take two days to arrive from Bengaluru," he said. Mehta said the market value of a single vial of remdesivir is R5,400.

Congress corporator Ravi Raja said, "Even though remdesivir is available in the market, people are not able to access it. Is the BMC waiting for more people to die?"

In India, two pharmaceutical companies are manufacturing the drug — Hetero Healthcare Ltd. and Cipla. While Hetero has been selling remdesivir for the past week, sources from Cipla said their product will be in the market by the end of the week.

Sandeep Shastri, executive director of Hetero, said the company has largely been supplying the medication to private hospitals with a pharmacy to ensure close monitoring of the sales and avoid misuse of the medication. "Till date, we have sold around 7,000 vials of remdesivir to 35-40 hospitals in Mumbai. We are meeting the demands but are falling short. We hope that in a week's time, we will be able to produce 10,000 vials a day," he said."

Recently, BMC chief Iqbal Chahal approved procurement of a month's supply of remdesivir. Additional Municipal Commissioner P Velarasu said the tendering process is underway and the BMC is in contact with the two firms. "We are procuring 11,800 vials that should be able to treat 1,200 patients. We are trying to ensure that the supply reaches us by the end of this week," he said. Due to the urgency of the situation, KEM Hospital with 384 critical patients has approached Hetero Healthcare to purchase the drug for now. "We wrote to Hetero on June 27 for 100 vials and are waiting response," said KEM Hospital dean Dr Hemant Deshmukh.

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