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Under political pressure for supplies: Remdesivir makers

State govt cracks down on black marketing, illegal diversion of drug

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai |
April 12, 2021 8:44:23 pm
In Gujarat, patients line up, BJP’s remdesevir stocks get a political twistA vial of remdesevir. (file)

Manufacturers of Remdesivir said they are under immense political pressure for supplies of the anti-viral drug and are fielding calls from politicians across party lines. Officials at Hetero Healthcare, the largest manufacturer of the drug in India, and Kamla Pharmaceutical, that supplies to Cipla, said they have been turning down requests from corporators, MLAs and MPs.

In Surat, Gujarat BJP chief C R Paatil managed to arrange 5,000 Remdesivir vials, manufactured by Zydus Cadila, for Covid-19 patients at his party office, sparking questions from the opposition on how he procured the drug even as Gujarat faces an acute shortage of it. On Sunday, Union minister Nitin Gadkari issued a statement that he spoke with Sun Pharma which has agreed to provide 10,000 vials for patients in Nagpur. A Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) senior official said manufacturers can supply only to the district collector, hospital or a stockist, not a minister. On Monday, Gadkari’s office clarified that 3,000 vials were routed by Sun Pharma through the Nagpur collector.

Both Zydus and Sun Pharma did not respond to calls and two e-mails sent to them.

“We are not entertaining calls or requests. It is also illegal for us to directly supply stock to a political party… but yes, a lot of such calls are coming in,” said a senior official from Hetero Healthcare. Hetero is currently the largest manufacturer of Remdesivir in India, producing 10.5 lakh vials per month in its Telangana unit.

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The Palghar-based Kamla Lifesciences, that supplies Remdesivir to Cipla and will soon begin manufacturing 2 lakh liquid Remdesivir vials a day, said they are flooded with calls from politicians to supply the drug. “There are too many calls from ministers. If we entertain one case, we have to entertain everybody, so we are trying to explain to them the legal route and we politely refuse. GoI norms are clear that these drugs can be supplied to licensed stockists,” said chairman Dr DJ Zawar.

Separately, the Maharashtra government is cracking down on black marketing and illegal diversion of Remdesivir. An inquiry by state officials has shown stock diversion at two points: at hospitals and through retailers.

In Latur, two ward boys in a hospital were found to have siphoned off three of six vials set to be administered to a patient. Each patient is administered at least six vials of Remdesivir. In a private hospital in Pune, a ward boy and security guard were found stocking the drug similarly, and were caught while approaching a patient to sell the vials at a higher price. A senior Maharashtra official said they found retailers sold two or three vials to a patient, but made an entry of sale of six vials in their books and diverted the remaining vials in the black market.

The state government has decided to shorten the supply chain and monitor it end-to-end. Manufacturers can only supply to stockists or Covid hospitals and collectors. Retailers will not be allowed to sell Remdesivir. A stockist usually buys a 100 mg Remdesivir vial for Rs 550-1100 (rates vary for manufacturers), the state has allowed him to keep a profit margin of 8 per cent. A hospital can keep a profit margin of 10 per cent. Remdesivir will finally cost Rs 1,200-1,300 to a patient in the state. While the MRP for Remdesivir ranges between Rs 899 and 5,400, senior state officials said a price capping notification has not been introduced over fears that stock may be diverted to other states where more profit margin is available. Instead, Maharashtra is controlling the supply chain.

Doctors will now have to justify the use of the drug in a patient to reduce over-prescriptions. Each doctor will have to fill a form explaining oxygen saturation level, temperature and clinical conditions. These forms can be scrutinised later if inspection is carried out by the government.

An official said they have started this practice in Aurangabad, Nashik, Nagpur, Pune and are slowly seeing a drop in black marketing and hoarding. When contacted, Dr Sudhakar Shinde, chairing the committee for Remdesivir price capping, said “We have not issued an order on price capping yet, we are studying the entire manufacturing process.”

With inputs from Vivek Deshpande

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