Pune reels under COVID-19, but Remdesivir’s hard to come by

Pune is worst affected district and requires 18,000 vials daily, but only 3,000-6,000 are available

Relatives of Covid patients protest at the Collector's office demanding intervention by the government to make Remdesivir available.

Puja Gohor, a college student, has been running pillar to post to get Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, for her father for the last three days. Her father, a COVID patient admitted in a private hospital, has been advised the injection.

“I stood in the queue at the government hospital (Sassoon General Hospital Pharmacy) for three days. I was 360th for my turn. Then I moved to the 40th after two days. In the meantime, relatives of other patients with money standing well behind me pay Rs 30,000 and more and buy the shot. When I asked the executives at the pharmacy as to why they allowed others to break the queue, they misbehaved with me and others,” said Puja.

IT engineer Anup Nair is undergoing Covid-19 treatment at Symbiosis University Hospital, Lavale, and required five vials of Remdesivir. Despite orders from Pune Collector office that hospitals should not ask patients to arrange the drug, Symbiosis told his wife Radhika to get the drug. “I have made calls to several hospitals, pharmacies, NGOs for the drug since April 14, when my husband was admitted in the hospital, but no luck,” said Radhika Nair.

These are not isolated cases. Relatives of hundreds of Covid-19 patients across Pune district have been struggling to get the Remdesivir. So much so that over 50 such relatives on April 15 protested outside the Pune Collector office demanding the drug for their Covid positive relatives. Besides, a few days ago, another group of relatives had protested at Poona Hopsital Pharmacy, a renowned hospital in the city.

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Shortage of Remdesivir

It is an antiviral medication and has proven beneficial in the recovery of Covid patients. Remdesivir also improved mortality rates for those receiving supplemental oxygen, as per various researches.

“The district requires over 18,000 vials a day while 3,000-6,000 are distributed daily. However, there has not been any supply for the last two days,” says S V Pratapwar, deputy commissioner, Food and Drugs Administration, Pune. However he did not answer why there is shortage or no supply of the injection and what the administration is doing to tackle the situation.

In order to check black marketing, Pune Collector Rajesh Deshmukh announced various measures on April 11. He asked hospitals to procure the drug based on the needs of admitted patients from distributors. Hospitals should not ask patients’ relatives to arrange the drug, he said.

Also read: Centre blames Maharashtra for slow RTPCR tests for detecting COVID

The Pune District Collectorate and Food and Drugs Administration have also started a helpline (020- 26123371 or 1077) for people who are in need of the injection. People can call the helpline and they will be advised to ask the hospital to approach the administration. The administration in turn will contact distributors to make the injections available to the hospitals concerned. Flying squads have been formed to check whether hospitals and pharmacies are giving the vial to the needy.

Highest active cases in Pune

Pune had over 1,12,213 active Covid19 cases on April 14, according to the Maharashtra Public Health Department. As many as 22,341 patients are taking treatment at over 424 Covid hospitals and the rest are at home isolation, as per Pune Zila Parishad. There is a daily increase of 4,000-10,000 cases in the district. Despite directions by the administration, private hospitals are asking patients to arrange the injection.

How helplines work!

Rajkumar Patil (41), another IT engineer with Covid, lost his father to the disease two days back. He couldn’t attend the last rites as he is admitted at a private hospital in Pimpri in Pune. The rest in his family — his mother, wife and sister – have recovered.

Sumedh Jawalkar, his neighbour, said: “The doctor has asked us to get six vials of Remdesivir as he is unable to procure them. I made calls to the government helpline specially started for Remdesivir and CIPLA helpline. I have visited many hospitals and pharmacies, but to no avail. We hope to get it before it’s too late.”

Like Sumedh, relatives of other patients have been trying to call various helplines. Most of the time, these helplines are busy. Deputy Commissioner S V Pratapwar says his administration plans to start more helplines.

Social activists and NGOs say they get hundreds of requests daily for the injection. Rupali Patil, social activist, says she gets over 100 calls or text messages requesting the injection or hospital beds. “It is distressing to see people in such a condition.”

One of the relatives of a patient says he looked for the injection at over 50 pharmacies and hospitals, but had no luck. “My brother-in-law, 50, a government servant, fortunately got a bed in a hospital after he spent six days in home quarantine. However, his doctor before admitting him told us that he needs Remdesivir. His wife and son are also Covid positive. I am the one who has to arrange the injection.”

Also read: Maharashtra has 5 times more active COVID cases than 6 nearby states combined

Kiran Pansare (26), an unemployed youth who has been in Sai Hopsital in Pune’s Phursungi has lung CT score 14. His doctor has asked for six vials of the injection. However, his brother is unable to arrange. “I could get two vials from the Lokmanya Hospital which is 50 km away. But I am unable to arrange the remaining four. I have called over 25 hospitals in Pune and Mumbai. I am ready to travel any city if injections are available,” says Vishal Bhusare, the patient’s cousin.

District Collector Dr Rajesh Deshmukh did not respond to the text messages and an email asking what the administration is doing to deal with the situation.

Dr Abhijit More, a social activist of Jan Swasthya Andolan, says the hype around Remdesivir is unnecessary. “The injection is not panacea. WHO’s Solidarity Clinical Trial conducted on 12,000 patients from 30 countries has proven that Remdesivir is not essential to save the lives or to save a patient from the ventilator. It is useful only to reduce the symptoms. Oxygen, ICU, and Dexamethasone are necessary to save patients who are admitted in hospitals.”

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