Covid drugs ‘scarce, expensive’

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THERE is a scarcity of some medicines used to treat patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

This was confirmed by Cebu City Councilor Joel Garganera, who is the deputy chief implementer of the city’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and Dr. Peter Mancao, deputy task force leader of Cebu City’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

On Monday, Aug. 30, 2021, Mancao told SunStar Cebu that hospitals are having a hard time securing a supply of Remdesivir and Tocilizumab, two of the medicines the hospitals use to treat Covid-19 patients.

These medicines, Mancao said, are used only once and only when the patient is in severe, or getting to a severe, condition.

Most of the time, the doctors use such medicines when the patient has difficulty breathing.

Now, Mancao said, the concern is on the scarcity and on the overpricing of these medicines when sold outside the hospitals.

Mancao said these medicines are supposed to be supplied only to the hospitals, and that these medicines were made available because of a special permit.

Mancao said the scarcity of the medicines can be attributed to the high demand for them due to the high number of Covid-19 cases in the country.

On Monday, Aug. 30, the Department of Health (DOH) said the Philippines set a new record for daily cases when it reported 22,366 Covid cases that day.

As a result of the shortage, Mancao said, some entities tend to sell the medicines at much higher prices. He said the price has tripled compared to the prices in the hospitals.

Mancao said his friend, who is in need of such medicine, was able to buy it for P120,000.

He did not specify which of the two drugs he was referring to. But neither one should cost that much based on the suggested retail prices of those medicines.

“The hospitals are regulated. The problem is because hospitals run out of stocks, people will go out. They look for the medicine outside the hospital,” said Mancao.

He said individuals can buy such medicines on their own as long as there is a doctor’s prescription.

Garganera, in a separate interview, said that based on his experience, the prices of such medicines “are very high.”

Garganera said the DOH, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be on top of securing and controlling the prices of such medicines.

Under Department Circular 2021-0291 signed on July 6, 2021, the DOH has set suggested retail prices (SRP) for Covid-19 medicines, but the going rate for such medicines today stray far from these suggested prices.

Last Saturday, the relatives of a hospitalized Covid-19 patient in Cebu City could not find any supply of Tocilizumab in Cebu, and were forced to buy a vial of it online for P98,000, which was promptly delivered to Cebu from Manila on the same day.

The SRP range for a vial of Tocilizumab is only P7,867.06 to P25,736.61.

Mancao said the government should intervene to ensure that medicines will be supplied only to the hospitals.

Mancao also asked the public, especially those who take advantage of the situation, not to hoard such medicines.

“If you don’t need it, please don’t buy it. Do not keep it at home. Please, let’s make it available,” said Mancao.

Medicines like Remdesivir and Tocilizumab are anti-viral medicines used in hospitals since 2020.

Dr. Jaime Bernadas, DOH Central Visayas director, said the availability of medicines for the treatment of Covid-19 patients is always a problem since these are for “compassionate” use.

He said these Covid-19 medicines are not available commercially, and they can be sold only to the hospitals that apply for the medicines with the FDA.

Also, the supplies of these Covid medicines in the government hospital network are made available through the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC) only as the DOH apex hospital, said Bernadas.

However, Bernadas said, their One Hospital Command structure in exigencies can get through the VSMMC in emergencies.

Compassionate use means that all these Covid medicines are not commercially available because they don’t have certificates of product registration and licenses, he said.

Bernadas said the compassionate use permit is for the hospitals to participate in a controlled study about the drugs. This is why they are strict in distributing these drugs.

All of such drugs available outside this channel are illegal and punishable under Philippine laws, said Bernadas. Thus, the FDA has been monitoring these types of transactions.

Bernadas urged the public to provide them with details so they could help the FDA do its job.

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