A BBC investigation has found that two life-saving drugs- remdesivir and tocilizumab – which are being used to treat Covid-19 patients in India are being sold on the black market for excessive rates. The drugs are in short supply as more covid-19 cases spread across India. Remdesivir is an anti-viral drug that has been approved in India for clinical trial and is also under “emergency use authorisation.”
The demand for remdesivir is driven by the fact that it has managed to cut down the duration of Covid symptoms from 15 days to 11 days in clinical trial at hospitals around the world.
Abhinav Sharma, whose uncle had high fever and difficulty breathing was admitted into a hospital in Delhi, was given a prescription of remdesivir by the doctors but procures that it was an impossible task to obtain the drug. “I had tears in my eyes. My uncle was fighting for his life and I was struggling to arrange the medicine that could possibly save him,” he said.
Sharma’s struggle is no different from many families in Delhi who have little to no access to the drugs but are desperate to save their loved ones. According to BBC, several instances have been found where families of patients in Delhi and neighbouring districts had to pay excessive prices for remdesivir, even willing to spend their life savings -just to give a loved one a fighting chance to survive. Some family member are even willing to get the drug themselves.
The BBC has learned of several cases where hospitals asked family members of patients to find the drug themselves. “I must have gone to 50 stores in Delhi. They all promised but asked for twice or thrice the price of each dose. It took me two days to get the number of doses needed for my aunt,” a Delhi resident said.
BBC was able to connect a seller working at the market who said “I can get you three vials – but each will cost 30,000 rupees, equivalent to $USD401, and you have to come right away. The official price for each vial is 5,400 rupees, and a patient typically needs five to six doses. Another man quoted 38,000 rupees per vial.
Despite the growing demand of tocilizumab, experts have warned that it’s no “silver bullet” but in the absence of any proven drug, doctors are increasingly prescribing it in India. Cipla sells the medicine in India on behalf of Switzerland-based Roche but just like remdesivir, the drug is hard to find.
A representative of Cipla in north India said demand of tocilizumab has risen drastically in the past few weeks. “We have increased supply, but we expect demand will continue to grow in the coming days,” he said.
However, the Cipla representative denies that tocilizumab is being sold on the black market. “We are tracking each dose to ensure that there is no profiteering,” he said.