With a shortage of Remdesivir in Telangana, many travelled from other districts to purchase the vials in Hyderabad.

A huge queue at a building in Moosapet to buy Remdesivir from Hetero drugs pharma company
news Coronavirus Monday, April 19, 2021 - 17:27

It’s hard to miss the serpentine queue outside a three-storied building at the Jinke Wada area in Hyderabad’s Moosapet. People of all ages have gathered here, masks on their face, physical distancing completely forgotten- as they desperately try to buy vials of Remdesivir, the drug used to treat COVID-19 patients, which the Hetero Drugs, a Hyderabad-based pharmaceutical company is selling on retail here.

Desperation forced many to cling on to the gate of the building, even as two policemen posted outside asked them to maintain physical distancing but in vain. Ravi, who had waited for over three hours on Monday, to enter the facility to procure the antiviral drug for his father rues that there is only one single person working behind the counter. “My father has been hospitalised for COVID-19 and the hospital has prescribed the drug. This is the only place in the city, where one can buy the drug at MRP rates. They provide only 6 doses for Rs 20400, Rs 3400 per dose,” he said.

While Ravi managed to get his hands on Remdesivir, many others were not so fortunate. On seeing people jumping the queue, one young man broke down, appealing to those around him that he had already got three vials and needed just three more for his mother, who is critically ill. As he broke down, others behind in the queue demanded that he be allowed to buy the drug.

With a shortage of the drug reported in Telangana, there were many in the crowd who had travelled from other districts to purchase the vials. Among them was Rizwan, who was crestfallen on not being able to buy the drug, and would have to wait another day to try again. Rizwan and his three-year-old child had traveled to Hyderabad from the Bodhan town around 200 km away, after he received a message on a WhatsApp group that the drug was available at this facility. “My mother is hospitalised and doctors prescribed the drug. I have been standing here for hours and I am tired as I am on the Ramzan fast,” he said.

The Hetero pharmacy started selling the drug on retail from this building on April 17 and not many knew about it that day. But in two days the word had spread and around 500 people gathered on Monday. Many who had to return on Saturday empty handed were given priority on Monday. By 4 pm, around 56 boxes of the drug- each box has 6 vials- were sold to people. The pharmaceutical gives drugs only to those who can produce the Aadhaar card of the patient and the caregiver and hospital admission report and COVID-19 certificate.

There were also a few women in the queue, but many were left behind as the men crowded near the gates. With no separate queue, most of the women stood behind, waiting for their turn.

Anirudh, a marketing professional, first bought the drug on Saturday for his aunt. On Monday, he returned with his cousin and they took turns to stand in the queue. Around 12 pm, they managed to get into the premises to procure the drug. “The doctor said we have to get this particular medicine, they told us there are no alternatives. We first procured the medicine by paying Rs 22,000 per vial from a black market guy,” he told TNM.

Despite the soaring demand for Remdesivir, studies like the World Health Organisation’s Solidarity Trial in October 2020 found it had little or no effect on a COVID-19 patient’s mortality or on duration of stay in hospital. The WHO had cautioned against physicians and medical associations recommending or administering such unproven treatments to COVID-19 patients.

India had approved emergency use authorisation for Remdesivir last June. Despite WHO’s advisory, several experts believe giving the drug at the right time to patients with moderate COVID-19 disease and receiving oxygen is beneficial.

"It's important to understand that Remdesivir isn't magic bullet and isn't a drug that decreases mortality. We may use it as we don't have an antiviral drug. It's of no use if given early to asymptomatic individuals/ones with mild symptoms. Also of no use, if given late," All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi director Dr Randeep Guleria told ANI.

Remdesivir has also been approved in the US by the FDA, where some studies have shown it speeds recovery in hospitalised cases.

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