TIRUCHY: Just a few months ago, there was a shortage of beds, oxygen and drugs. Social media was flooded with desperate requests to help the Covid-afflicted. The shortage of drugs such as Remdesivir and Tocilizumab caused hoarding, and people were willing to go to any length to procure them. The State government then decided to open counters to sell Remdesivir at a nominal rate. The queues of people waiting to procure the drug was a massive reality check.
India has also been facing a shortage of vaccines. In Tiruchy, no Covid vaccines were administered for more than three days last week. There was a shortage of basic instruments such as pulse oximeters too. This has exposed the need for a national stockpile of essential drugs and vaccines to fight the Covid pandemic. Experts say that in order to successfully combat the pandemic, at least from now on, a stockpile is extremely necessary, so no one is left in the lurch due to a shortage of essentials.
What is stockpiling?
“Stockpiles are made in anticipation of an outbreak of an infection. Several countries practice stockpiling. A stockpile would include all the essential items that can be used during a pandemic. In the context of Covid, that would be vaccines, drugs and PPE kits, among other things. Stockpiling is done so that when a pandemic hits, you can be prepared. It is done both on a scientific basis, and if you have to throw it away on expiry, it is not considered an expense and wastage, rather as risk mitigation. India needs a total reform of the healthcare system,” explained Professor NK Ganguly, former director-general of ICMR.
The country has practised stockpiling during previous outbreaks. “India did it for tuberculosis and polio. We need a clear protocol on what stock has to be kept. Without a stockpile, we will be running helter-skelter in the future too. There needs to be a proper strategy for different drugs. Each drug has a different shelf life and method of storage. All that has to be taken into consideration,” said Dr Amir Ullah Khan, Research Director at CDPP (Centre for Development Policy and Practice).
How do you stockpile?
“When we get a warning that a pandemic is upon us, we need to be ready with a multi-pronged approach. We need to have an authority that is independent, multi-sectorial, and cannot be the Health ministry alone. We need two or three structures. One would be pandemic warehousing and stockpiling and the other would be the Supply Chain Authority of India,” professor Ganguly said.
We need proper surveillance, sanitation, and transport of materials. We should be willing to speak to manufacturers across the world in order to stockpile. Strong budgeting is also needed. Stockpiling would also prevent hoarding. We should also have a reserve army of doctors, nurses and paramedics in case of a pandemic. One of the most important things needed for a stockpile is a robust procurement manual,” he added.
Amid the Covid outbreak, tertiary care hospitals faced major challenges. They bore the brunt of shortages. Therefore, stockpiles must be maintained at a district level, say experts.“We must maintain stock of drugs at the district level. The epidemiological model can be based on every district’s profile. It would be de-centralised if it’s done at the district-level. Buying stock and negotiating prices must be done by the Centre,” Dr Khan said, adding that vaccines are the need of the hour, and that the government must buy as many as needed.