With the sudden rise of Covid-19 cases in India, several states have witnessed a shortage of the anti-viral drug Remdesivir and medical oxygen. Remdesivir was manufactured in 2014 by the US-based biotechnology company Gilead Sciences. The drug was used for the treatment of Ebola and then subsequently used to treat patients of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), both of which are caused by coronaviruses.
An injectable anti-viral drug repurposed for Covid-19 treatment, Remdesivir has been flying off the racks of pharmacies over the last few weeks ever since the recent spike in Covid-19 cases and subsequent increase in hospitalisations. The anti-viral drug is being used in treatment of Covid-19 patients with severe complications. The Centre has currently prohibited exports of the Remdesiver and the active pharmaceutical ingredients required for the drug till the Covid situation in the country improves. The Union Minister Mansukh Mandaviya told a news agency that a “fast track approval has been given for the monthly production of around 80 lakh vials.”
However, there has been a shortage of Remdesivir in several states. In Pune, relatives of Covid-19 patients staged a sit in protest out the Collector’s office demanding the supply of the injections. As Covid-19 cases continue to rise in Maharashtra, the state is facing a shortage in vaccine supply. Pune, one of the worst affected cities in Maharashtra, requested Mumbai to supply them with 20,000 vials of Remdesivir vaccine. Maharashtra has started district-level control rooms to streamline the supply of Remdesivir injections and prevent its hoarding and black-marketing. The state has also slashed the price of Remdesivir to Rs 1,200-Rs 1,400.
In Gujarat, the BJP announced free distribution of 5,000 doses of Remdesivir in Surat, triggering a hullabaloo.
Madhya Pradesh is providing the drug free of cost for critical Covid-19 patients from economically weaker sections.
Meanwhile, black marketing is fast becoming a source of concern. A medical shop owner and two others were arrested on Thursday by the Madhya Pradesh police's Special Task Force (STF) for allegedly black marketing Remdesivir injections. Senior police official Manish Khatr said, "They were arrested based on a tip-off. The STF sleuths recovered 12 vials of injections of two different brands from them. It was printed on the packet of these vials that they are meant ''for export only," he said.
The maximum sale price was not printed on them, but they were hoping to sell each injection at ₹ 20,000, the official said.
While the top price band for a Remdesivir injection is about Rs 5400, a family in Bidar was forced to shell out Rs 40,000 for one injection last week and that too from a hospital.
A journalist in Maharashtra is rumoured to have ended his life by cutting his wrist as he failed to get Remdesiver injections for his family who were Covid positive. The Kanpur STF in the meantime arrested three people with 265 Remdesivir injections that they planned to sell at the black market.
Sending a clear message to those hoarding Remdesivir, Karnataka Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai announced that stringent legal action would be taken against those who stock the medicine to create artificial scarcity and then, sell it at inflated prices.