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Monday, May 17, 2021

Maharashtra FDA’s Covid helpline has one staffer fielding phone queries on drugs

Praveen Gunjal, a drug analyst who was manning the ground floor centre at the FDA headquarters in Bandra Kurla Complex, said, “We answer 600-800 calls every day and patients seem very disturbed. Most callers ask about availability of remdesivir."

Mumbai |
Updated: May 4, 2021 7:11:04 am
On Sunday night and Monday afternoon, The Indian Express found just one staffer fielding calls. (Representational)

(Written by Yogesh Naik)

The state Food and Drug Administration, which started a helpline for COVID-19 patients at its Bandra headquarters, has just one person to answer the phone in each shift for all queries related to availability of remdesivir and tocilizumab, and just five persons per shift for smooth movement of oxygen tankers and availability across the state.

On Sunday night and Monday afternoon, The Indian Express found just one staffer fielding calls.

Praveen Gunjal, a drug analyst who was manning the ground floor centre at the FDA headquarters in Bandra Kurla Complex, said, “We answer 600-800 calls every day and patients seem very disturbed. Most callers ask about availability of remdesivir. The patients are in serious condition. As remdesivir is not available in the open market, we give them the numbers of drug inspectors in their respective areas.”

Gunjal said that some calls go unattended as there are two landlines. If the query is about oxygen availability, it is transferred to the control room in the same building that handles oxygen supplies, he said.

Another FDA officer said they should be properly staffed and equipped to answer people’s queries, and that the present efforts were “half-hearted”.

After the state announced the setting up of the helpline, some relatives of Covid patients also visited the FDA headquarters.

An Air India employee landed up at the office as a colleague was in serious condition in the ICU and the hospital had asked for tocilizumab.

“We got through the drug inspector after great difficulty, but he said the drug was not available anywhere. There were just 800 vials sent for the state, of which 57 were for Mumbai,” the Air India employee said.

Since oxygen availability was becoming a problem, Chief Secretary S J Kunte asked the FDA to set up a control room for oxygen movement. Here, too, there are just five staffers. One of the employees said that a few days ago, when there was a shortage of oxygen, there was a flood of calls from hospitals.

FDA Joint Commissioner D R Gahane said that it is a fact that remdesivir and tocilizumab are not available in the market, and at best his team could provide the numbers of inspectors.

A note issued by the medical education department, which controls FDA, said that in the face of continuing hoarding and black-marketing of essential drugs, members of the public must register complaints with Hemant Mahajan in the medical education department or with the district collector or the local police station.

From Sunday, the government also set up control rooms in collectorates in the state. At the suburban collectorate at Bandra, the Revenue Assistant was the only person in the control room, answering calls about remdesivir availability in Mumbai suburbs. There were 600 calls about drugs, and some about bed availability in hospitals.

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