The Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra government to ensure smooth supply of the drug Remdesivir to COVID-19 patients and asked the state govt to take up measures to increase & regulate the supply of medical oxygen to all government & private hospitals as COVID cases continued to surge at an unprecedented rate in Maharashtra, leading to a shortage of Remdesivir, other life-saving drugs, oxygen and other medical facilities.
Hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by petitioner Sneha Nirav Marjadi, a Bombay HC bench led by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GD Kulkarni directed the state government to appoint a nodal agent and set up a 24x7 helpline number to undertake the supply of Remidesivir at the required hospital / COVID centre. The HC categorically stated that the patients' or their kin must not be made to run from 'pillar to post' to get access to Remdesivir and directed the govt to provide the drug at the hospital or centre that they were being treated. Appearing for a proposed intervenor, advocate Rajesh Inamdar submitted that there should be a cap on the price of injections in order for people from the lower strata to procure it to which CJI Dipankar Datta responded, noting that the Court agreed with the issuing of pricing raised by the intervenor.
The Bombay HC asked the Maharashtra government to set up more laboratories in order to scale up RT-PCR and Rapid Antigen testing for COVID. The HC also sought from both Centre and the state on COVID-19 patients who were addicted to smoking, citing that the Coronavirus affected the lungs. Addressing the issue of availability of hospital beds, the Bombay HC asked the state government to establish a portal and a helpline number concerning the availability of different category of beds in Government hospitals, Municipal Corporation hospitals and private hospitals. Bombay HC also asked the state government to take all measures to increase and regulate the supply of oxygen to all the government and private hospitals. Passing the interim directions, The Bombay HC adjourned the proceedings to May 4 and asked the reply affidavit to be filed within a week and a rejoinder three days after that.
"We would be failing to our duty if we do not appreciate the steps taken by the Central Government and the State Government to control the pandemic and of the medical fraternity, however, as noted above, our concern is also to the duty of every citizens towards the society at large, which, in our opinion appears to have been neglected which is one of the reasons that the second wave has hit us", the Bombay HC order read.
Advocate General of Maharashtra Ashutosh Kumbhakoni said that 7 companies have entered into contracts with manufacturers of the anti-viral drug, Remdesivir. Out of these 7 manufacturers, 1 company is in Maharashtra. Stating that before December 2020, all the manufacturers had taken appropriate steps to ramp up the manufacturing, Maharashtra AG said that since the number of Coronavirus cases was low in January and February, the production of Remdesivir was reduced. The manufacturing cycle of production of this drug is a minimum of 21 days, he added.
The Maharashtra AG said, "Sudden steep rise in demand of Remdesivir drug has arisen. Indiscriminate use of this drug by the patients and doctors have also resulted in its shortage. Another reason for the shortage is that COVID-19 positive patients are insisting on Remdesivir."
Speaking further about the shortage of Remdevisir all across the country, Ashutosh Kumbhakoni said that 6 vials of Remdesivir are required per patients in serious cases, but every family has brought 30 vials to prepare for an emergency, due to which, a state of panic is being created. Informing that the government on Wednesday spoke about the state-wise allocation of this drug. He further mentioned, "It is a medical misconception that Remdesivir is a life-saving drug."
Meanwhile, Central government lawyer ASG Anil Singh said, "Yes, it's like if a person is likely to need O2, he/she will not require it if Remdesivir will be given on time. Justice GD Kulkarni, while requesting the media to not create a situation of panic, said, "Please do appreciate that we are passing through a critical period. It is not the time for you to make sensational news and jack up your TRP. Sometimes, we make comments out of anger and despair, don't sensationalise it."
Suggesting that there should be a portal for getting access to Remdesivir, Kulkarni said, "We shouldn't expect the patients or their relatives or the health staff to run around for searching for the drug. It is the duty of the state to make it available."
In response to this, Maharashtra AG said that he will prepare a flowchart on how Remdesivir is reaching the actual user. When the Bombay High Court asked if nodal officers have been appointed to overlook the distribution of the anti-viral drug, the state AG said, "Assistant Commissioner of FDA has been appointed at the district level, at division level the Joint Commissioner of FDA and at the State Level, the FDA Commissioner himself."