Severe paucity of Tamiflu, anti-virals has patients and familes on edge

Oxygen, beds and Remdesivir are not the only essentials in the city’s arsenal against COVID-19 that are in short supply. Families and friends of patients who develop severe symptoms are finding it increasingly difficult to get their hands on antiviral medicines like Tamiflu/Fabiflu.

Software engineer Deepak S. spent two days scouring pharmacies in the city before he could get his hands on 20 tablets of Fabiflu that a doctor had prescribed for his elderly COVID-19 positive mother, who is currently isolating herself at home. “I may have called or visited over 50 pharmacies before I could find the tablets through a friend who is a doctor,” he said.

The emand for antibiotics and anti-parasite drugs prescribed for COVID-19 patients has picked up over the last one month, which the chemists are able to meet adequately. “However, there is a severe paucity of supply of Tamiflu/Fabiflu tablets making it impossible to match the demand, creating a large gap,” said M. J. Ravindra Kumar, secretary, Bengaluru Chemists and Druggists Association.

‘Not prepared’

“Even two weeks ago, these flu tablets were relatively easier to procure, but that is no longer the case,” said a regional manager with a pharmacy chain. “Pharmaceutical firms also did not expect the enormity of the second wave and had scaled down production after cases dropped,” said a senior official in the State’s COVID-19 war room.

What is adding to the panic is that several hospitals are shifting the onus of purchasing ‘tough to procure drugs’ onto family members, sending them on the hunt, while their loved ones are fighting for their lives.

Remdesivir, also in short supply, is today completely regulated by the government and allotted to hospitals on a priority basis, making it hard to come by. However, several hospitals are asking patients to procure them. “I had to pull strings, call people in the medical fraternity and the bureaucracy to get Remdesivir. But I had the resources to do this. What about others,” questioned a COVID-19 patient, who did not wish to be named. The city police have busted several rings selling Remdesivir in the blackmarket for as much as ₹22,000 a vial.

Life-saving drugs like Tocilizumab and Itolizumab that are administered to critical COVID-19 patients in an attempt to prevent cytokine storms — when the body starts to attack its own cells — are “impossible to procure”. “I have been trying to procure one of these drugs, said to be in the range of ₹35,000 to ₹50,000 for my brother who is on ventilator support. I have been told there are no stocks of the two drugs anywhere in India. A shipment of Tocilizumab is said to have been imported to Mumbai on Monday. I am hoping against hope that I will get a vial,” said Suneel Kumar, a software engineer. Here, too, there is a blackmarket for these drugs, where an injection was recently procured for as high as ₹2.5 lakh, sources said.

Standard run-of-the-mill tools like oximeters, nebulisers and inhalers are also scarce. “My maid asked me to get an inhaler for her, but when I went to three pharmacies, I was told there were none available. Her husband procured one from a chemist in another part of the city but had to pay double the price,” said Beena Deshpande.

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