| Pune |
Published: April 7, 2020 12:32:18 am
Some with valid prescriptions from rheumatologists are now finding it difficult to access this “life saving drug”.(Representational Image)
Hydroxychloroquine, which is believed by some to be a likely drug to treat corornavirus (COVID-19) cases, is usually sold over the counter. Sale of the medicine, however, has been restricted following a government notification disallowing over-the-counter purchase, and this has led to several problems for patients of rheumatoid arthritis and other auto-immune disorders like systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
The Indian Council of Medical Research had recommended that the drug be only given to doctors and contacts of confirmed COVID-19 patients, and hence its sale was restricted. According to chemists’ associations, this decision led to panic buying and, after the lockdown, there were challenges in the manufacturing and transportation process of the drug.
With US President Donald Trump requesting the Indian government to make the drug available for coronavirus patients, patients of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are now demanding answers about how they will be ensured their supply of drugs, which they have been taking for several years.
Some with valid prescriptions from rheumatologists are now finding it difficult to access this “life saving drug”.
Shivani Barve, one of the founder-trustees of Mission Arthritis India, which also manages a patient support group, said she had only 10 tablets in stock for her arthritic condition. “I have gone to a couple of pharmacies and despite a prescription, have not been able to get the drug which needs to be taken with other medications,” said Barve.
“Several WhatsApp groups of patients are now abuzz about the news of US President Donald Trump asking India to supply this drug. How will we get our supply if the government has already procured more than 12 to 15 crore tablets,” a patient told The Indian Express.
A 34-year-old woman who suffers from SLE (Lupus), a resident of Mumbai who was with her mother in Pune when the lockdown was announced, said, “I had purchased the medicine for a fortnight or so but the drugs are at my place in Mumbai.” She said she has been taking the medicine for the last 13 years.
“My mother suffers from arthritis and has to take the drug twice a day,” she said.
Another 40-year-old woman, who travelled from Parbhani to Pune, said she was using the drug judiciously every alternate day as she only had 10 day’s worth of stock with her. “I hope I can get the medicine in Pune at least,” the woman said.
At the Centre for Rheumatic Diseases, Director and Rheumatologist Dr Arvind Chopra said he has been getting several calls from patients as they were not getting their supply of the drug. “Even today, one of my patients came on his motorcycle all the way from Pandharpur to get a prescription and check if the drug was available in Pune, as his mother suffers from arthritis,” said Dr Chopra.
Dr Praveen Patil, rheumatologist at Aditya Birla Hospital and Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital, said that via his video consultations with patients, several have complained about the short supply of the drug.
Doctors caution that if the drug is not taken regularly, the disease may flare up, which then has to be treated with higher doses of medication.
Dr Debashish Danda, president-elect of Asia Pacific League of Association of Rheumatologists, said taking medicines regularly was important for patients with arthritis and lupus and other auto-immune diseases. According to estimates, at least 1 percent of the population suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.
Dr Chopra said these drugs were not painkillers but were required as they helped reduce auto-immune disease inflammation. “These are taken by patients for several years and are safer drugs,” said Dr Chopra.
Dr A Ghosh, president of the Indian Rheumatology Association, said that due to the lockdown, there were issues of distribution, but the matter has been taken up with the Centre.
The demand for the drug increased some time in mid-March and while officials at manufacturing companies said they were catering to the demand by stepping up their production, the issue should be settled within another seven to eight days, he said.
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