New Delhi: Members of the Rajya Sabha standing committee on home affairs expressed concern Wednesday over the rampant black-marketing of remdesivir and tocilizumab, which are part of India’s approved clinical management protocol for Covid-19 as “investigational therapies”, and sought the Centre’s intervention to stop it, ThePrint has learnt.
The issue was raised at the meeting of the parliamentary panel, headed by senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic and related issues like phased unlocking, resumption of economic activities, migrant labour crisis, among others.
Senior officials from home and health ministries, including home secretary Ajay Bhalla, briefed the parliamentarians about how the government is dealing with the pandemic.
“Several MPs told the officials about how a vial of Remdesivir, whose market price is around Rs 4,100 is being sold at an exorbitant rate in the black market. To this, Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry, informed the members that they are aware of the situation and action is being taken against those indulging in black-marketing,” an MP in know about the deliberations told ThePrint.
Agarwal said the health ministry has directed drug manufacturers to give a list of all the distributors selling the medicine. “The list, Agarwal said, will be shared with the public to ensure that Covid medicines are sold at market price,” the MP added.
Some of the MPs also referred to the disinformation campaign by pharmaceutical lobbies against widely used drugs like hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid-19. The drug has been recommended for prophylactic use among healthcare and frontline workers.
Epidemic Disease Act needs to be revisited
The parliamentary panel members also suggested to the home ministry officials that there is a need to revisit the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897, that states invoked to enforce the slew of central government advisories to manage the Covid outbreak.
“There was a view among the members that the Epidemic Disease Act has become dated. Also, there is a need to define clearly what constitutes a disaster under the National Disaster Management Act,” a panel member, who attended the meeting said.
The home secretary told the MPs that the law would be looked into to address the concerns.
Lockdown helped check infection spread
Briefing the parliamentary panel members, home and health ministry officials said the government’s decision to go for a nationwide lockdown from 25 March helped in checking the spread of the infection as well as mortality rate.
“Health ministry officials quoted a study saying that without lockdown, the infection rate would have touched 50 lakh by now and the deaths would have been in the range of 1.5 lakh. Today, India’s mortality rate is among the lowest globally because the lockdown period was used to ramp up the health infrastructure,” another MP, who attended the meeting, said.
‘Panel’s mission is not to find faults’
Speaking at the meeting, senior Congress leader Sharma, who is the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee, said the Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedented crisis and painful, but a learning experience for all stakeholders, including the states and the central governments.
“Sharma said that the panel’s mission is not to find faults but drive the right lessons. He said that it’s a unique opportunity that we have to come with a report that could be used as a reference for all such future epidemics,” the second MP said.
The meeting was attended by 11 of the 30 members of the panel.
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