In the absence of a vaccine to fight COVID-19, healthcare systems across the globe are depending on anti-viral drugs that have shown positive results in clinical trials. One such essential drug is American firm Gilead's Remdesivir, which has been launched in India by a number of generic drug makers including Cipla, Hetero and Mylan.
As India currently has the world's third-worst novel coronavirus epidemic with almost 1.3 million cases and over 30,000 deaths, the demand for Remdesivir has skyrocketed. Furthermore, reports have come in regarding the misuse of high-priced medicine by hospitals, leading to a shortage of the drug in the rest of the country.
Hospitals prescribing Remdesivir even when not needed
Suspecting that hospitals are indulging in malpractices to make quick bucks, the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) has raised the issue of "indiscriminate use" of Remdesivir with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) as well as the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO), according to Economic Times (ET)
The DoP has asked both the concerned authorities to monitor if Remdesivir is being prescribed even to patients who could be effectively treated with other low-priced drugs.
"The point is that Remdesivir could be prescribed only for patients who are on oxygen or n ventilator support. However, it has been seen that instead of prescribing and using lower-priced medicines like dexamethasone and methylprednisolone, big hospitals are using Remdesivir and other highly-priced drugs indiscriminately," a DoP official was quoted as saying by ET.
Remdesivir is currently priced in the range of Rs 4,000-Rs 5000 per vial and the total cost of treating a COVID-19 patient with the drug comes to be between Rs 40,000-Rs 55,000.
Short supply fuels black marketing of Remdesivir
With several rackets of illegal trade of the high-in-demand Remdesivir being uncovered, the MoHFW has asked all the states to strengthen their vigil to prevent black marketing. The Directorate General of Health Services has written to the Drug Controllers of the states to prevent the sale of Remdesivir above MRP.
Remdesivir assumed significance as a key drug in the fight against COVID-19 after a randomised clinical trial conducted with the drug on 1,063 patients over 60 centres across the US, Europe and Asia demonstrated faster time to clinical recovery in hospitalised patients.