COVID Drugs Being Distributed by Politicians: A ‘Deeper Malaise’

“These incidents, besides being concerning, also reflects the deeper malaise within our political systems.”

3 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

Soon after the start of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India, newspapers and television channels alike were flooded with images of people standing in long queues outside chemist stores, pharmacies and hospitals across India.

They were waiting for their turn to purchase prescription-only medicines like Remdesivir, which have also been running in short supply due to the unprecedented demand amid this national public health emergency.

In the one year since the start of the pandemic, Remdesivir has gone through a full life cycle, from being a ‘promising’ drug for COVID-19 to not being found to reduce the severity of disease or mortality, in large-scale clinical trial. Yet, the drug has found a place in national treatment guidelines, and many clinicians and hospitals in India regularly prescribe Remdesivir for COVID-19 treatment.

The Rush for Remdesivir & Reports of Politicians ‘Hoarding’ & ‘Distributing’

However, soon after the first wave of COVID-19 in India, as cases started going down, the production capacity declined from around 3.5 vials a month in October 2020 to nearly nil production in February 2021. But with a steep and sudden rise in COVID cases in April 2021, the demand for not only Remdesivir, but also other essential drugs and medical supplies like medical oxygen and cylinders / concentrators has grown exponentially.

Amid this spiralling crisis, reports of some political parties and individual politicians and political associates ‘hoarding’ and ‘distributing’ drugs like Remdesivir have emerged — this, while there continues to be a severe scarcity in the government hospitals and local pharmacies.

Sitting members of parliament and legislative assemblies, and even a former chief minister have been accused of being embroiled in such activities. A few elected leaders also announced through their social media handles that the drug would be available at their offices, exclusively for the residents of their constituency.

Against this backdrop, a “public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Delhi High Court seeking registration of FIRs against leaders of political parties indulging in hoarding and illegally distributing COVID-19 medicines, denying the access to the said medicines to the public at large,” reported LiveLaw.

Have Our Law-Makers Become ‘Law-Breakers’?

These incidents and reports, besides being concerning, also reflects the deeper malaise within our political systems. The issue is far bigger than the fact that a prescription drug can and should be sold and distributed by the licensed seller and not by an individual.

The drugs and medicines, in any set-up and situation, should be available and accessible, as per the health needs of the general populace.

Therefore, considering that Remdesivir has been in short supply, purchase because of influence by someone irrespective of whether for sale or free distribution, will mean limited supply for the rest of the public.

This is likely to encourage black marketing and might have contributed to long queues and inconvenience of the general public in purchasing Remdesivir.

Therefore, knowingly or unknowingly, the lawmakers have become ‘law breakers’. Moreover, such an approach is feudalistic — where one side acts as the ‘benefactor’ and treats others as their ‘subjects’: “come and collect”.

On the contrary, elected leaders and representatives should ensure that people don’t have to come to them and ensure that the provision of this (or any other) medicine is assured in the public health facilities. As the elected representatives, they are responsible for the effective functioning of the health services and public facilities in the areas they serve.

Blinded Approach of Politicians & Leaders Towards Public Healthcare

However, the even bigger issue is that these incidents show the narrow, shortsighted and ‘blinded’ approach of a few politicians and elected representatives when it comes to the provision of health services. When a politician chooses to used personal privileges or chooses to use a private health facility for the advantage of a select few, it, in many ways, reflects their lack of understanding and interest — possibly both — in improving the government health facilities and lack of priority for the health systems and needs of the citizenry.

Political parties and elected leaders are not only accountable to the people in their constituencies, they are also the policy-makers for the entire country.

Therefore, until India has elected leaders who think about the welfare of each and every citizen and see any health issue as a broader challenge, Indian healthcare systems and services will not be totally robust.

(Dr Chandrakant Lahariya is a medical doctor, epidemiologist, public policy and health systems expert. He is the lead co-author of ‘Till We Win: India’s Fight Against The COVID-19 Pandemic’. He tweets @DrLahariya. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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