The Gautam Gambhir Foundation, established by the BJP MP and former India cricketer, is distributing antiviral drug Fabiflu and oxygen cylinders to COVID-19 patients across the national capital. The medicines and cylinders were earlier being distributed in Gambhir’s East Delhi constituency only.
Fabiflu is an antiviral drug used to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 cases. Over the last few weeks, reports of Fabiflu and Remdesivir going out of stock have emerged from various parts of Delhi and India.
The AAP accused the BJP MP of hoarding the medicine. AAP leader Durgesh Pathak tweeted, “Gujarat — BJP president hoarding life-saving injections. Maharashtra — BJP ex-CM Fadnavis hoarding Remdesivir. Delhi’s part-time BJP MP and full-time cricket commentator hoarding life-saving medicines. Public representatives or criminals? You decide.”
“This is the reason why Remdesivir, Fabiflu and other critical medicines are out of the market. BJP leaders are hoarding these medicines. We have seen this in Gujarat also. Such leaders must be booked,” AAP leader Rajesh Sharma said.
His party colleague Somnath Bharti called Gambhir’s announcement “criminal”. Congress leader Pawan Khera also asked if his distributing the drug was legal.
Responding to hoarding allegations, Gambhir said in a media statement that he only had “a few hundred strips of tablets obtained from a distributor”. “Is my obtaining a few strips of Fabiflu causing the shortage?” he asked.
No Stock in Medical Shops
Pramarth Singh, an engineer in Delhi, said, “I came from 30 kilometres to get the Fabiflu medicine here in Gambhir’s foundation for my wife. The hospital and local medical store in my area has already exhausted the Fabiflu stock. I have no other option but to come here.”
A medical shopkeeper told The Federal, “For the last two weeks, there is no supply of Fabiflu in our shop. Every day, hundreds of people call us, come physically to buy Remdesivir and Fabiflu. But as we don’t have any stock, we have to send them back. The distributors are also not picking up our phone calls.”
On Sunday there were long queues of helpless relatives in front of Gambhir’s residence, waiting for medicines. Jyoti Yadav is a resident of Delhi whose entire family of three has tested positive. She said, “Every person is getting one strip of medicine. It doesn’t matter if there are three people positive or 10. This is not sufficient. In our area, we are not getting anything so we have no choice but to come here and stand in long queues for two hours.”
“This is sad that hospitals and medical stores don’t have medicine but a politician has it and distributes it. There are seven constituencies in Delhi. Each constituency has hospitals and medical stores. It would be better if people can get medicines from medical stores and hospitals in their constituency. Now people have to travel to a single place in such a situation when their relatives are dying. This is blatant misuse of power,” said Anju Sharma, a public health expert.
Legalities under Question
The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 governs the end-to-end process from manufacture to the sale of drugs in India and is meant to ensure that citizens have equal and fair access to drugs and medicine.
According to Government Guidelines for Good Distribution Practices for Pharmaceutical Products issued under the said Act, in order to maintain the original quality of pharmaceutical products every party involved in the distribution chain has to comply with various legal requirements related to procurement, purchasing, storage, distribution, transportation, documentation and record-keeping practices of the pharmacy goods.
The guidelines say that only authorised persons or entities holding the appropriate licence shall be entitled to import or export pharmaceutical products, and the products shall be supplied only to persons or entities which are themselves authorised to acquire such products either to act as a distributor or to sell or supply the products directly to a patient or to his or her agent.
The government guidelines further talk about the organisation and management of such entities and require that they should be free of political pressure or conflict of interests. The guidelines lays out several other provisions regarding how to maintain the quality of the products by ensuring certain types of storage facility, warehouse and so on.
“How do we know that Gautam Gambhir did not deliberately create a shortage to earn political points? Even if he has the stock, should he not hand it over to the hospitals or government centres? Is this not against the Drug and Cosmetics Act?” asks activist Leher Sethi, who has filed a complaint with Delhi Police against Gambhir.
“Drugs and Cosmetics Act bars anyone from selling or stocking or exhibiting or offering for sale or distributing the drugs except those who are licensed under the Act by the Drug Control Department such as pharmacists, etc. There is also a Kerala High Court judgment, which held that no person other than a registered pharmacist can dispense medicine. Gambhir is in clear violation of the law,” she added.
Delhi Police have not yet registered an FIR.