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One Week & Counting: Wait for Remdesivir in Chennai is Ongoing

Non-availability of stock, hoarding, illegal sale and lack of planning has led to crowding outside the hospital.

Published
COVID-19
4 min read

Reporter & Cameraperson: Smitha TK
Video Editor: Sandeep Suman

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So many people are sick and are at the verge of dying. So what are they doing with all the stock?
Krishna, Chennai
Government is here to save our lives right? If we all die, who can they approach for votes again? What is the government doing?
Uma, Chennai

For 32-year-old Srinivasan, it is his eighth day standing outside the gates of Kilpauk Medical College hoping to get his hands on the anti-viral drug Remdesivir.

He has traveled over 100 kilometres from the outskirts of the city as this was the only place where the drug was available. His brother had tested positive for COVID and is on oxygen support at a private hospital where he was told that this drug was essential. Today, Srinivasan has developed symptoms of COVID but continues to stand in line as he has, only one brother and is willing to give his life to save him.

People ask why the dug cannot be supplied directly to the private hospitals instead of them having to stand in line for days.
People ask why the dug cannot be supplied directly to the private hospitals instead of them having to stand in line for days.
(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)

This is the story of hundreds of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters waiting outside the hospital. The counters here are supposed to be open from 9 am to 5 pm and provide doses for at least 500 persons. But most days, the place is shut by 2 pm and only about 300 persons get the vials.

While this has led to absolute chaos, it is also becoming a potential COVID hotspot. The Quint spoke to relatives of patients to understand their ordeal.

The long queues could turn into a COVID hotspot.
The long queues could turn into a COVID hotspot.
(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
Crowding outside the Kilpauk Government General Hospital in an increasing concern amid the COVID surge.
Crowding outside the Kilpauk Government General Hospital in an increasing concern amid the COVID surge.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)
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No Token System in Place

Senthilkumaran of Tindivanam, who is 45-year-old, has been sitting on the pavement outside the hospital for over a week. “I have been here since Wednesday. Everyday I stand in queue to be turned away. We then give our names and stand in the queue again the next day. We can’t afford to stay in lodges. We use the common washroom and sleep here on the pavement.”

45-year-old Uma is standing in the queue for the fourth day, to get the drug for her husband as her eight-year-old takes care of her five-year old at home. “I am scared. If I contract coronavirus, who will take care of my kids?”

While police officials are ensuring social distancing and providing food and water for those waiting, there is no system in place to ensure there are no crowds outside the hospital.

“We are told 250 persons are given the medicine in each counter. My number was 189 yesterday and I still didn’t get it. No official is speaking to us at the gate or inside the hospital,” said an anxious relative.

Crowding outside the Kilpauk Government General Hospital in an increasing concern amid the COVID surge.
Crowding outside the Kilpauk Government General Hospital in an increasing concern amid the COVID surge.
(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

“One day they will call us as per the order in which we are seated, another day according to Aadhaar card serial numbers. We don’t know what the procedure is,” said Senthilkumaran.

These two mothers have been waiting for three days at Kilpauk Government Hospital.
These two mothers have been waiting for three days at Kilpauk Government Hospital.
(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)

The Tamil Nadu government has made the drug available in Coimbatore, Trichy, Madurai, Tirunelveli and Salem but due to non-availability, hoarding, illegal sale and lack of planning, crowds continue to gather with people panicking.

“Isn’t there a stock allotted to us? Shouldn’t that be given to us? There are no separate queues for men, women and senior citizens. It is an absolute mess. It has been 7 days and now I have a bad cough. Now if I get bed-ridden who will take care of me?”
Venkatesan, Chennai

Private Hospitals Continue to Force Patients to Buy the Drug

The World Health Organization’s Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said, “Based on available evidence, there were about five trials... which essentially showed that Remdesivir given to hospitalised patients, didn’t reduce mortality, it didn’t reduce the duration of hospitalisation and it didn’t affect the progression of the disease”.

The health department has warned private hospitals to not force patients to buy the drug.

“We are being pressured that only if we get this medicine can we save our loved ones.
Else why would we all be standing here?,” said Krishna from Chennai.

The health department has warned private hospitals to not force patients to buy the drug.
The health department has warned private hospitals to not force patients to buy the drug.
(Photo: Smitha TK/The Quint)
This is not a liquor shop where we are standing in line. We are here to save others’ lives... just like an army soldier on the border, only that I am doing it for my family
Venkatesan, Chennai

Following complaints of large crowds at the hospital, the Tamil Nadu government on Thursday informed the Madras High Court that it is planning to shift the sale of the vials to Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium at Periyampet. The government said it was planning to sell 20,000 vials per day and will be operating additional counters.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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