The BJP on Sunday defended its Gujarat unit chief C R Paatil following opposition criticism over the free distribution of remdesivir, an antiviral drug used in the treatment of Covid, which is sold on prescription and is currently in short supply.
Queues for the drug were seen outside both Zydus hospitals — which renewed its sale with stricter conditions — and the BJP office in Navsari, where the party distributed it for free for the second day.
In a video statement issued on Sunday, the Gujarat BJP media convener Yagnesh Dave said: “BJP started providing remdesivir injections in Surat free of cost…with cooperation of local traders. As per the instructions of our president C R Paatil, local traders bought (the drug) in whichever available quantity on their own, from Gujarat and outside… Cases (of Covid-19) have started increasing in Surat, so to help the needy, to save their lives, injections are being given free of cost…”
In New Delhi, however, a top government official told The Indian Express: “Individual entities are generally not authorised to access this drug. It is mainly for emergency use with informed consent.”
Political parties, the official said, cannot procure remdesivir, because they do not have a wholesale licence to buy and stock drugs. “Pharmacies can store this drug, but they can only supply it based on a prescription,” the official added.
The country’s top drug regulator had cleared remdesivir for restricted use in an emergency situation on June 1, 2020. The permission, which is similar to the ones given to the two Covid-19 vaccines being used in the government’s immunisation drive, prohibits unmonitored supply of the drug in the open market.
Remdesivir can only be supplied in hospitals and by pharmacists upon the prescription of a doctor treating Covid-19. The patient receiving vials of the drug has to sign an informed consent form before it is administered to them.
Ahmedabad-based Zydus Cadila had started selling remdesivir from its pharmacy at the hospital from April 5 at a subsidised rate of Rs 899 per 100 mg lyophilized injection, and had planned to sell it until April 12. However, stocks ran out on Friday night, and the hospital said it “will not be able to dispense the drug till further notice”.
The same day, Paatil announced that the BJP would distribute the drug for free.
“We have made arrangements to buy 5,000 remdesivir injections from Zydus, and have placed orders. We will get supply of 500 to 1,000 injections daily from the company for Surat city. Patients from districts in South Gujarat and also from Surat city, who face problems in getting remdesivir injections, can come to the BJP office, show the treatment file, doctor’s number, and other necessary details, which will be verified by our people in the BJP office, and later such injections will be given free of cost to them,” he had told The Indian Express.
On Saturday, however, speaking on the sidelines of a party event at Morva-Hadaf in Panchmahal district, Paatil said, “Some of our friends from Surat city have bought these injections and we are distributing them through the BJP. We are only supplementing the distribution. The state government has its own arrangement…”
Also on Saturday, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, asked how Paatil had got the drug, said, “Concerned about Surat, C R Paatil has arranged for 5,000 remdesivir injections. How C R (Paatil) made those arrangements, it is better to ask him for a proper answer. The government has made separate arrangements. The distribution organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party is also different. This has no connection with the stocks we have sent (for Surat)… Not a single injection has been given from government stocks.”
The Gujarat government has fixed nodal public hospitals to sell remdesivir from the stock procured by it, from where private hospitals that have a memorandum of understanding with the government or civic body, can procure it at rates fixed by the government. The buyer hospitals are required to furnish patient details on a hospital letterhead, RT-PCR test report, doctor’s prescription – to be handed over in person by an individual authorised by the private hospital.
Congress MLA from Gandhinagar C J Chavda on Saturday wrote to the Commissioner of Food and Drugs Control Administration demanding that 2,500 remdesivir injections be made available to him for distribution in his Assembly constituency. “I wrote the letter because if BJP president C R Paatil can collect remdesivir injections for distribution in Surat, why can’t I do the same for my constituency?” Chavda had told The Indian Express.
Neither Paatil nor Pankaj Patel, chairman of Zydus Cadila, were available for a comment on Sunday.
Besides Zydus Cadila, companies like Cipla, Mylan, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, Hetero Healthcare, Jubilant Generics, have received permission to produce and supply the drug in India. These companies had tied up with Gilead Life Sciences, which has developed the drug, to be able to make generic versions of it for the Indian and other markets under a voluntary licence. Some of these companies have employed contract manufacturers to make the drug for them.
The surge in cases led to the government banning exports of remdesivir and the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) used to make it “with immediate effect” on Sunday, according to a notification by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT).
“There are not many vials in the market, because, in between, the situation with regard to the number of hospitalised cases requiring remdesivir had calmed down,” said a manufacturer on condition of anonymity, adding that there was little to no production happening across the board as a result.
“But we’ve seen a surge in demand all of a sudden. In the last five days, we have received a large number of requests,” said this manufacturer.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) national spokesperson and Maharashtra Minister for Minority Development Nawab Malik on Sunday questioned the free distribution of remdesivir by the BJP at a time when the medicine was in short supply across the country.
“The patient count is increasing across the country and people are facing shortage of medicines like remdesivir. The situation is the same even in Gujarat. However the BJP’s Surat unit has put up ads stating that it will provide free distribution of remdesivir from its office. When the distribution of this medicine needs to be done by the administration why is this being done by a political party? The question also arises how the BJP managed to procure these medicines,” Malik said.
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