India’s Desperate Covid-19 Patients Look to Drug Black Market

Patients suffering from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) will be treated on April 15, 2021 in the casualties ward of Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) Hospital during the epidemic of the disease in New Delhi, India.  REUTERS / Danish Siddiqui

Indian hospitals are overwhelmed by the second wave of coronavirus

Akhilesh Mishra started having a fever and cough last Thursday, but initially thought she had the flu.

The next day, when his father, Jogendra, showed similar symptoms, Achilles began to worry. The two men decided to perform a Covid RT-PCR test and tried to book a slot online, but the next availability was three days later.

They were finally able to win the slots on Sunday. Meanwhile, Yogendra had a very high fever, and his doctor advised him to look for a hospital bed, which turned out to be another difficult task. They turned their backs on many private hospitals in the city of Noida and the capital city of Delhi.

The family was finally able to get a bed for him at a private hospital in Delhi, and he is now recovering.

Achilles thought he would lose his father.

“I felt depressed,” he said. “I was worried that he would die without treatment. My son doesn’t have to experience what I experienced. Everyone should be equally cared for.”

Family stories are not unique. Reports of families struggling to find beds, or life-saving medicines and oxygen cylinders, have been reported throughout India. In some cities, crematoriums have long waiting lists.

You’ll have to wait a few hours to get your Covid-19 tested at laboratories in many cities, including Delhi. And the results are coming after 48-72 hours.

“I’m worried that I’ll have three days of symptoms and I’ll have to wait a couple of days before I get a report,” said a 35-year-old man outside Noida’s lab.

Narcotic black market

In India these days, social media is flooded with desperate demands for help finding the drugs remdesivir and tocilizumab. The efficacy of the two drugs is being debated around the world, but several countries, including India, have given both emergency use authorizations.

The antiviral drug remdesivir is prescribed by doctors nationwide and is in high demand. India has banned exports, but manufacturers are still struggling to meet demand. In India, more than 150,000 Covid cases per day have been reported in the last three weeks.

People waiting to be screened and tested outside a Noida government-run hospital.

People waiting to be screened and tested outside a Noida government-run hospital.

Hetero Pharma, one of the seven manufacturers of remdesivir in India, said the company is trying to expand production. The BBC has found that supply shortages have led to drug black markets in Delhi and several other cities. At least three agents contacted by the BBC in Delhi agreed to supply each 100 mg vial of remdesivir for Rs 24,000 ($ 320, £ 232). This is 5 times the official price. The Indian Ministry of Health recommends giving patients 6 doses of 100 mg vials for a course of medication, but doctors say doctors may need up to 8 doses.

That’s a lot of money for a middle class family. “I had to spend a lot of money to get the medicine,” said Atour Garg, a mother who was admitted to a private hospital in Delhi.

Tocilizumab, a drug commonly used to treat arthritis, Proven to save lives in several clinical trials.. However, it has almost disappeared from the Indian market.

Rajib Shinharu, general secretary of the All Indian Chemists and Pharmacists Association, said his phone was ringing all day when people asked him to help him find the drug.

“The situation is so bad that I can’t even get medicine for my family,” he said. “We are trying to take action against the people of the black market, but admit that there is a leak in the system.”

Oxygen, X-ray and Covid tests

Demand for medical oxygen is also skyrocketing in some Indian states. Some hospitals keep patients away due to lack of supplies. Maharashtra’s chief minister, Uddhav Thackley, urged the federal government to send oxygen by military aircraft because it took too long to transport by road to hospital replenishment.

The situation is even worse in small cities and towns. When patients cannot find a hospital bed, doctors advise them to place oxygen cylinders at home.

Nabeel Ahmed’s father was diagnosed with Covid on Friday in a small town in northern India. Five days later he began to have difficulty breathing.

The doctor advised Nabir to take an oxygen cylinder home. He had to drive to another city for four hours to pick up one. “It took me eight hours to get a cylinder for my dad while he was having trouble breathing,” he said.

Another major problem facing patients in small towns is that private laboratories refuse to perform chest x-rays and CT scans. Doctors often ask for these tests to assess the progression of the disease.

Yogesh Kumar, who lives in the northern town of Allahabad, said the only way to do an x-ray is to be admitted to a hospital or at a government-run hospital. It was too long.

A Prayagraj doctor told the BBC: “It’s unbelievable that x-rays can’t be done for patients. Sometimes you need to rely on blood reports to assess your illness, which isn’t ideal.”

On April 15, 2021, outside the body of COVID-19 Hospital in New Delhi, India, the woman was comforted by her children after her husband died of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).  REUTERS / Danish Siddiqui

The woman was comforted by her children in Delhi after her husband died of the coronavirus

Busy crematorium

Crematoriums in many adversely affected cities operate day and night. In some cases, the family has to wait several hours to cremate the deceased. According to a recent report, the metal structure of the furnace The interior of the crematorium in the city of Surat in western India was beginning to melt as it ran day and night without rest.

A short video clip has recently become a hot topic, showing dozens of funeral firewood burning in the northern city of Lucknow in the middle of the night.

Many of the crematorium staff work tirelessly. They are exhausted. Many throughout India are asking if these situations can be avoided.

“We didn’t learn the lesson from the first wave. We knew that the second wave would come, but we didn’t intend to avoid unfortunate events such as lack of medicine, beds and oxygen.” Epidemiologist Dr. Lalit Kant said.

“We didn’t learn from other countries facing similar situations,” he said.

Some names have changed on request.

Read more stories by Vikas Pandy