CHENNAI: When doctors told Joel Pinto that his father had a better chance of beating COVID-19 if treated with Tocilizumab, the 28-year-old ran pillar to post in search of the drug. It was then that Joel realised the drug has not been available in the city for the last 15 days.
Tocilizumab, a patented drug made by just one manufacturer, is used to suppress inflammation, and costs anywhere between Rs 75,000 and Rs 95,000.
"The doctors initially told me they would arrange for it to be delivered in two days. Later, they asked me to try as they were uncertain of the arrival. I called hundreds of pharmacies in the city, and placed several requests over the social media," recalls Joel.
"I couldn’t find the drug, but I realised a lot of others were scrambling like me for Tocilizumab, to save their loved ones," Joel said. His father had a lung infection two years ago. He needed the medicine to reduce inflammation and breathing difficulties.
"Monday was the 13th day of my dad being admitted in the hospital. The doctors warned me that time was running out. If it gets any late, treatment may not be possible. I cannot express the fear I felt then," he added.
Joel kept on calling pharmacists. Finally, one in Otteri told him he could get it from a pharmacy in Hyderabad. The catch was that it would take at least three days for the drug to come by post to Chennai. Joel had to go there and get it himself. "The pharmacist charged me Rs 92,000. I didn't have time to decide if I should trust him. I paid an advance without questions and applied for an e-pass,"
Since the hospital's letter was attached, the e-pass was granted in flat 45 minutes. "I just took my car and left for Hyderabad. I reached around 1 am Tuesday and got the medicine. I was so relieved. I left for Chennai shortly and got back home by Tuesday noon," says Joel. The doctors have started treating his father with Tocilizumab, and the family is hoping he recovers soon.
"I feel bad for those making frantic searches here for the drug. I spoke to so many in need of it. In such situations, the government and hospitals must procure adequate stock for the benefit of public. If there's delay, there's no saying how many lives would be lost."
Twitter is filled with requests from people in Chennai for the drug. Director the drugs control department K Sivabalan says there's a nationwide shortage of the drug. "The central government must take an action on it as they control import and export of the country."