Drugs shortage: Kerala’s health sector could collapse under a third wave of COVID-19

An experimental COVID-19 treatment pill, called molnupiravir and being developed by Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP, is seen in this undated handout photo released by Merck & Co Inc and obtained by Reuters on October 26, 2021. Merck & Co Inc/Handout via REUTERS

Kannur: Kerala’s health sector is likely to face a major crisis if a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic strikes as the government hospitals in the state are facing an acute shortage of medicines and equipment.

Numerous irregularities in the purchases carried out by Kerala Medical Services Corporation Limited (KMSCL) earlier in the guise of COVID-19 containment measures has led to the present pathetic situation. After the scam came to light, senior Health Services authorities have been reluctant to clear files on medicine purchases, causing the shortage.

In Kannur district, expensive anti-COVID-19 drugs such as monoclonal antibodies and Remdesivir are already in short supply. Incidentally, among the first patients to be affected by the shortage is former Health Minister of the state K K Shailaja, who is now admitted to Pariyaram Medical College Hospital after being tested positive for the virus.

After doctors at Pariyaram hospital failed to obtain monoclonal antibodies for Shailaja from Kannur, they were forced to source the drug from outside the district. This drug is administered to COVID-19 patients suffering from respiratory and heart diseases and having conditions such as hypertension and diabetes to prevent them from slipping into a critical condition.

Costly medicines out of stock
At a recent meeting attended by the Health Minister and Principal Secretary, the issue of shortage of monoclonal antibodies was raised. However, no decision was taken to make enough purchases of the drug, which costs Rs 1.20 lakh a vial. Similarly, anti-rabies serum and intradermal rabies vaccine are also out of stock in several districts.

COVID brigade disbanded
Yet another cause for concern as a new wave of the pandemic looms over the state is the absence of the COVID brigade, which has been disbanded. Incidentally, the government has no plan to activate to the brigade again.

Moreover, during the first and second waves of the pandemic, hospitals were allowed to make purchases related to COVID-19 and submit the bills for reimbursement.

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