‘Vital Drug’ Remdesivir’s Unavailability Leaving Kashmir ‘Breathless’

As more and more patients are gasping for breath in Kashmir hospitals due to surging COVID curve, the unavailability of the so-called ‘miracle drug’ is creating a new crisis in the coronavirus fight back.

WHEN senior Hurriyat leader and president Anjuman-e-Sharie Shiayan lately felt suffocated, doctors at Sheri Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) prescribed Remdesivir injection, a “vital drug” for the COVID-19 positive patients.

But when his attendants approached the hospital administration, they were told that the “much-needed” drug is not available.

“We checked every medical shop in Srinagar but we didn’t get it,” Syed Baqir, the ailing leader’s attendant, told Kashmir Observer.

According to top health officials—most of whom are declining to share their name for comments owing to some new administrative gag order—the valley still lacks the vital drug stock.

Remdesivir injection was made recently and it’ll take some time to be available in Kashmir,” a top health official from SKIMS told Kashmir Observer.

“While we aren’t sure whether the drug will work or not, but our purchase section is already procuring the stock.”

If Remdesivir’s effectiveness is still doubtful, then why’re doctors prescribing it?

“Well,” the health official said, “we’re looking into it.”

A prescription slip of SKIMS recommending Remdesivir

Drug Drive

Despite doubts, some people have already activated their social media handles to place requests for the drug. Some are even sharing their nightmarish experiences related to it.

Lately, two Kashmiri brothers who lost their mother to COVID at SKIMS narrated a harrowing treatment towards their late mother on social media.

“When I was running after doctors for my mother’s life, I was told that the hospital lacks Remdesivir supply and stock,” Tanveer Syed, a Srinagar resident who recently broadcasted his hospital ordeal on social media, told Kashmir Observer.

“With the help of my well-placed contacts, I could get the drug immediately, but what about others?”

Notably, with the surging Covid-graph, Kashmir’s dependence on Remdesivir is only growing. Even doctors are increasingly prescribing it for COVID patients today.

Keeping its significance in mind, a senior Kashmiri journalist lately shared a patient’s appeal for the drug on his social media handle.

But as the valley is yet to stockpile the ‘wonder drug’, many Kashmiri doctors practicing abroad have come forward to help their anxious brethren back home.

But Does It Help?

According to Medscape, a website providing access to medical information for clinicians, the broad-spectrum antiviral agent Remdesivir is a nucleotide analog pro-drug — cleared for Covid treatment use on May 1, 2020, by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

A phase 1 trial of an inhaled nebulized version was initiated in late June 2020 to determine if the drug can be used on an outpatient basis and at earlier stages of the disease.

Remdesivir was studied in clinical trials for Ebola virus infections but showed limited benefit,” Medscape maintains.

“The drug has been shown to inhibit replication of other human coronaviruses associated with high morbidity in tissue cultures, including severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in 2012.”

Remdesivir helps in shortening the recovery time in adults hospitalized with Covid-19 and lowers respiratory tract infection, the website said.

Drug Trial in Kashmir

Many health experts in Kashmir believe that the drug is “vital” for its ability to truncate the ailment time.

“It’s a vital, and even a life-saving drug for severe COVID-19 patients,” said influenza expert, Dr. Nisar ul Hassan.

Dr. Khan Khawar, Registrar General Medicine at SMHS hospital, told Kashmir Observer that the drug is the only antiviral authorized under emergency use in the US.

“Studies have shown that it decreases hospital stay from 15 to 11 days,” said Dr. Khan. “In some severe cases, it decreased mortality from 11 to 7 percent.”

But as the 5-day Remdesivir treatment costs Rs 27,000, many patients and their attendants are finding themselves in a tight spot.

Besides price, its unavailability is equally breeding the concern on the ground.

“Although the drug shortens the hospital stay, the only vital thing is high flow Oxygen and ventilators,” Dr. Irtifa, PG Resident Medicine, at SMHS, told Kashmir Observer. “But since, we’ve nothing else to offer, so doctors prescribe this drug.”

Kashmir Observer sent text queries to Dr Samia Rashid, Principal GMC, Srinagar, regarding the unavailability of the “vital drug” in Kashmir. As and when she responds, this copy will be updated.

Panic in Patients

Meanwhile, the chaos and crisis reports are continuously coming from the Covid-crammed health centres of Kashmir.

On 17 June 2020, the doctors and other paramedical staff went on a strike at SMHS hospital after some attendants assaulted doctors and vandalised the hospital property.

The attendants got angry after learning that the hospital lacks Remdesivir injection.

“Some attendants lost control and resort to violence,” said a Covid-designated doctor at SMHS.

However, an attendant told Kashmir Observer that the ‘viral’ patients have been left to “God’s mercy” in hospitals.

“Doctors are prescribing this drug because they believe it’s vital for the Covid patients,” said an attendant from Kulgam.

“But its unavailability, both in hospitals and chemist shops, is creating an existential crisis for us.”

Although influential people like president Anjuman-e-Sharie Shiayan can possibly arrange this vital and costly drug, but what about a commoner in Kashmir, the anxious attendant said.

“So in this scary scenario,” he added, “what should a patient do?”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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