Indians Struggle to Find Oxygen, Remdesivir as Pharmacies Try to Cope With Shortage

It had been merely eight hours since her COVID-positive, diabetic 59-year-old mother was rushed to the hospital in Gurugram city, when doctors called up Aditi Kataria to inform that they had only six hours of oxygen left. Talking about that moment, the software engineer says she felt numb and helpless.

The hospitals in Delhi and its neighbouring cities, Gurugram, Ghaziabad, Faridabad and Noida that collectively make for the National Capital Region (NCR) have been facing an acute shortage of oxygen and the drug Remdesivir amid the latest wave of сoronavirus cases in the region.

After several politicians, including Delhi Chief Arvind Kejriwal, alerted the government of the risks of hospitals running out of oxygen in the NCR, oxygen tankers were sent to some major medical facilities, such as the Sir Ganga Ram Hospital and Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital in Delhi, among others, late at night on 20 April.

Delhi is the most infected city in India, with 28,395 new COVID-19 cases recorded in the last 24 hours, along with over 200 deaths, as per the official data of the health ministry.

Talking to Sputnik, Aditi Kataria, whose mother is currently undergoing treatment in Gurugram, has wondered how big hospitals can run out of oxygen and ventilators, particularly in the capital region.

“We had to admit my mom [to a hospital] after her oxygen levels dropped to 47 and she started losing consciousness on the night of 18 April. Finding a hospital that had a vacant bed for a COVID patient was the first big task, but luckily we [managed to do it]. The next day after the hospital informed us of its depleting oxygen supply, we started making calls to arrange for oxygen cylinders,” Kataria said.

“When I called the hospital again with some leads on sourcing oxygen cylinders for my mother, they said they were bound by agreements to purchase them from specific vendors only, and that they could not accept oxygen from anywhere else,” she added. 

Later, however, the hospital did manage to secure oxygen for the next few days. But 28-year-old Kataria says her experience dealing with this chaos was the most scary event in her life, knowing that her mother’s life was at stake.

On 20 April,  Manish Sisodia, the deputy State Chief of Delhi, revealed that “most of the Delhi hospitals” had “oxygen left for only eight to 12 hours”, alarming the central government of the disaster an oxygen shortage could cause in the hospitals.

Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain also posted oxygen alerts on social media to get the government’s attention.

​“The hospital had literally asked us to move my unconscious mother to another facility that had oxygen….and believe me, we tried. But literally no hospitals asked us to bring her right over. While the numbers of most hospitals were off or not working, the hospitals that did pick up calls bluntly, rather rudely stated that there were no beds left with oxygen or ventilator facilities. If this is the situation in the NCR, it must be disastrous in smaller cities,” Kataria told Sputnik, recalling her horrifying experience.

Another issue making it to the headlines in India is the shortage of the drug Remdisivir, which according to the New England Journal of Medicine, reduces the recovery time for COVID-positive adults and is being used to treat the virus in India. 

The injectable drug was cleared by India’s drug regulator for restricted emergency use in June 2020 on patients with severe complications. As the cases peaked this spring, several states complained about shortages of Remdesivir.

In another similar case, a man was forced to run around the city looking for Remdesivir and shared his exhaustive experience with Sputnik. 

“I have my father-in-law in the intensive care unit (ICU) in Delhi and we need Remdesivir. Last night I kept running from one pharmacy to another from 8.30 p.m. to 10.50 p.m. amid lockdown. All the pharmacies I went to said they did not have it. They said only authorised distributors could sell the vials to us,” said Sunil Sharma, a resident of north Delhi’s Malka Ganj area. 

“The chemists hinted that it could be purchased from the ‘black market’ for as much as INR 30,000 ($340 approx), when the actually price is about INR 3,500 ($45 approx.) for one vial. Another day has started and I am still searching for Remdesivir. Thankfully, the hospital provided one dose to my father-in-law last night because of his emergency situation, but now today we need more of the drug,” a disappointed and sleep-deprived Sharma added. 

A Noida city-based outlet of a well-known pharmacy chain, Global Pharmacy, told Sputnik that one had a maximum chance of getting Remdesivir at hospital pharmacies.

“The doctors know when to use the drug, so it is being supplied to the in-house pharmacies of the hospitals rather than to the other medical outlets. Some suppliers are providing the drug at print rate or even at lower prices given the health emergency situation. But the drug is being sold and purchased at really high prices on the black market,” said a Global Pharmacy worker on condition of anonymity.

Now that former Congress party President Rahul Gandhi has tested positive for coronavirus, his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has also highlighted the shortage of Remdesivir in hospitals.

More States in India Demand Indian Railways to Run ‘Oxygen Express’ as COVID-19 Cases Soar

“The vaccine shortage is due to bad planning, the Remdesivir shortage due to no planning, the oxygen shortage due to no strategy. It’s the government’s failure,” Priyanka was quoted as saying in an interview, slamming the government’s ill-preparedness to tackle the second wave.

On 20 April, Prime Minster Narendra Modi gave his first address to the nation in 2021 regarding the critical coronavirus situation. In his address, he assured citizens that the production of oxygen, vaccine doses and COVID-related drug production in India has been escalated to meet the supply.

Meanwhile, India has recorded as many as 2,023 deaths and 295,041 new COVID cases in the last 24 hours.

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