For the past two months, Mehraj u Din has had a very hectic schedule. “I visit courier companies to collect critical care drugs ordered from pharma companies outside the state. I also go to chemist shops and hospitals to check on supplies. Earlier, most medicines would be delivered to my office,” says the 50-year-old, owner of MRS Enterprises, one of the largest suppliers of oncology drugs in Kashmir.
In the early days, after the abrogation of Article 370 on August 5, most medical stores in the Valley shut shop, and the communication blockade made it tough for Din to reach out to pharmaceutical firms. “We are associated with 30 firms. Apart from cancer drugs, we are also one of the primary distributors of high-end antibiotics,” says Din. Most of the chemist shops have now opened.
A medicine distributor since 2004, he these days gets up at 6 am, and after prayers and a quick breakfast, leaves his home in the Old City of Srinagar on his two-wheeler. His first stop today is a courier company 4 km away, from where he picks up two parcels of “cold-chain” drugs.
An hour later, he arrives at his office located in an old building in Srinagar’s Karan Nagar area. Divided into two parts, the office has a big refrigerator in one corner and shelves lined with medicines. Din puts the medicines in the godown and leaves for home again. “The courier company opens only for a few hours in the morning. We can collect the drugs only then,” he explains.
Around 11 am, he returns and settles down in his office with a cup of tea and some Kashmiri bread. Three managers from a local pharmaceutical firm have been waiting to use the office landline to make calls. The 44,000 landline connections across the Valley were restored on August 17.
Around 12.30 pm, Mohammad Yaqoob from Srinagar’s Rangreth area arrives to collect a Bortezomib injection for his father, a cancer patient. “Earlier, a dealer would deliver them to our home, but we have had no communication with him since August 5. The pharmacist at the hospital (on the outskirts of Srinagar) told me that I could get the medicines here,” says Yaqoob.
Din, a father of two, says many patients have been approaching his office directly to get medicines since August 5. “Initially, I was surprised to see the large numbers… Many of them even landed at my home.”
He also had trouble replenishing stocks, unlike before August 5, when Din would have stocks for a month. “But the people kept coming…,” he recalls.
Around noon, two women managers from a local medical firm arrive. One of them says that Din had approached them around the 10th day of the blockade. “Bhaijaan said they were running out of medicines. My firm provided him with some critical care drugs.”
To ensure supply to chemists and hospitals in time, Din says, “Sometimes my staff members had to go out at night, early morning. At various places, they had to face the security forces and angry people on the streets. At times they would return to office, wait, and then try again,” he says. Even after he managed a “curfew pass”, he says, things didn’t get better. “One time, when I was on my way to work from the airport, my car’s front mirror was damaged in a stone-pelting incident. Since then I have been using my two-wheeler,” Din says.
There have been moments he has been helplessness too. “In the last week of August, a family reached out to me for anti-cancer medicines. Since I could not contact the pharma company, the patient was discharged from hospital for that week. The medicines arrived only after several days. Fortunately, the patient survived.”
Around 1 pm, a young man arrives. “My father is a cancer patient. Which drugs are better for him —Indian or imported?” he asks. Din explains to him patiently that both are good, but the imported ones are costlier. “But a doctor can guide you better,” he says.
“Since most shops are shut, many people land here, not just for medicines but also advice,” Din smiles. As his staff serves him more tea, he adds, “ I don’t have lunch, I prefer a strong cup of tea.”
A while later, a family member of a labourer who has suffered an accident and is admitted in hospital comes and requests Din to help buy medicines at a cheaper rate. As the 50-year-old instructs his staff to give him the drugs, he says, “Every pharma company gives drugs at cheaper rates to the poor patients. It’s done under a quota. But there is an online process we need to complete. So far I have been giving them medicines at lower costs on my own. Once the blockade is lifted completely, I will send the reports to the company,” he says.
At 5 pm, as he prepares to wind up for the day, one of Din’s doctor friends, who is also a cancer patient, walks in. “I have to spend Rs 2 lakh for 10 tablets of a cancer drug. The company has assured me that they will send me one free strip if I send them the invoice. I have dosage left for only four days now. Please see what you can do,” he tells Din.
After giving it some thought, Din comes up with a plan. “Two of my friends, pharmaceutical officials from Chandigarh, are going soon and I will request them to email the invoices from their office,” he says.
“This is how we have been working, coming up with plans to sort out regular issues,” he smiles.
On his way home, the 50-year-old has to make one last stop, at the SMHS Hospital, to see if their stocks are sufficient. “The communication lines are patchy. So I go and check myself… I should get home by 8 pm,” he says, starting his two-wheeler.