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Concerns over Remdesivir shortage grow

Bengaluru Reports of a shortage of remdesivir injections increased in Karnataka as the number of cases of the coronavirus disease in the state continued a relentless surge
By Arun Dev
UPDATED ON APR 17, 2021 02:48 PM IST

Bengaluru

Reports of a shortage of remdesivir injections increased in Karnataka as the number of cases of the coronavirus disease in the state continued a relentless surge.

According to medical practitioners, the anti-viral injection that costs between 1000 and 5,500, depending on the brand, is being sold for 30,000 to 40,000 in the black market.

The managing director of Harsha Hospital in Bengaluru, S Shivakumar, said they have been unable to replenish the stocks at the hospital’s medical store. “We have been enquiring for the injection from the past 10 days to which, they (companies and wholesale dealers) have been replying with no stock,” Shivakumar told HT.

According to the national treatment protocol, Remdesivir is one of the investigational drugs approved for use in treating hospitalized Covid-19 patients. With the rising cases, the demand for the drug has also shot up. To be sure, most studies have shown the drug has no real effect and it has been removed from the treatment protocol in many countries.

Families of people undergoing treatment for the viral disease were forced to pay double the price for the injections.

“My uncle who is Covid positive needed the injection. We got the first shot from the hospital. But the second, third and fourth doses were not available at the hospital. We were told to contact some private parties who would provide us the vial and they charged 40,000 for the first injection and 30,000 for the second and the third. Even in the black market we were unable to get two more injections, so we shifted him to Hyderabad,” said a relative of a patient in Bidar. 

The maximum retail price per vial for various brands of Remdesivir varies. One vial of Hetero costs is 5,400, Mylan 4,700, Jubliant 4,700, Reddy’s 5,400, Cipla 4,000 and Zydus 899. 

Mohammed Fahad, coordinator of the National Students Union of India, said, “I was trying to procure the injection for a friends’ mother. I went to multiple hospitals, but the injection was out of stock. One medical store owner gave me a number who could provide the medicine, when I called him, the perspn asked for 7,500 per dose which is close to double the price. We were able to find the medicine at MRP after searching further.” He, however, questioned how middlemen were able to procure the drug if hospitals were running out of stocks.

Medical practitioners in the state have sought government action against the black-market trading of the drug.

Shivakumar said he has written to chief minister BS Yediyurappa seeking a police investigation.

“I was made aware of the fact that certain people are selling the injection in the black market illegally. The Hetero Remdesivir 100mg injection of 20 ml, which is to be sold for 1,500 to 2,000 is being sold for 15,000 to 25,000. Hence, kindly enquire and verify about other batches of the injections as well,” he wrote in the letter to the CM. 

On Thursday, Karnataka home minister Basavaraj Bommai warned of action against those spreading rumors about the shortage.  

“The Karnataka Health Minister has already said there is no scarcity of Remdesivir injection in the state, but a false scarcity is been created in the state. The government has taken the matter seriously and will initiate stringent action against those who are making a fast buck by creating false scarcity and black marketing this important drug. We will monitor at every level of supply, storage and distribution of Remdesivir. We will keep track right from pharmaceuticals to the hospitals and initiate action under the Epidemic Act,” he said in a statement.

A senior official of the Bengaluru police said that teams have been formed to crack down on the black-market sales of the injections.

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