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Bombay High Court tells Maharashtra to set up 24-hour helpline to ensure availability of Remdesivir

The division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni passed this order while hearing a PIL filed by Sneha Nirav Marjadi.

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The Bombay High Court on Thursday directed the State to ensure anti-viral drug Remdesivir is made available to patients at the hospital/Covid centre itself, without forcing them to run pillar to post, through a helpline number which must be operational 24 by 7.

The division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G.S. Kulkarni passed this order while hearing a PIL filed by Sneha Nirav Marjadi.

The petition said concerns are arising from the second wave of the pandemic which has gripped the country and more particularly nastily affecting citizens in Maharashtra. There are four issues raised by the petitioner, which are: the shortage in supply of Remdesivir; secondly, oxygen shortage; thirdly bed management; and fourthly the Covid-19 tests, the RT-PCR and the Rapid Antigen tests.

The petitioner states Remdesivir is used in the treatment of Covid-19 patients. This drug is in the form of injection available in vials. This drug reduces the need for oxygen and longer hospitalization.

Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, Advocate General, submitted a brief note on each of the issues raised by the Petitioner. The patent for Remdesivir is owned by American multinational company Gilead Inc. The drug is mainly used to cure patients affected by Ebola virus and diseases related thereto.

According to Kumbhakoni, the said American company has assigned rights for its manufacture and sale to only seven companies in our country and such companies have in turn entered into contracts with manufacturers for manufacturing of this drug. In Maharashtra, there is only one such manufacturer of the said drug.

Kumbhakoni stated that this drug has been authorized for Covid-19 only as and by way of `emergency use authorization’ and hence the drug cannot be prescribed and used for each and every Covid-19 patient, especially irrespective of the stage at which the infection has affected adversely the health of the patient.

The petitioner, represented by advocates Arshil Shah and Simil Purohit, submitted that was a shortage in the availability of oxygen throughout the State, and cited various social media posts and news reports to demonstrate the shortage.

Advocate General Kumbhakoni said that there are 6,86,000 active Covid patients in Maharashtra, of which 78,000 patients require oxygen. The State’s present requirement of 1500 metric tonnes of oxygen per day was being met by its production of 1200 MT and importing oxygen from other states based on the MoHFW’s order dated April 18, 2021.

He mentioned a projected need for nearly 2000 MT of oxygen, candidly admitting that there may be a shortfall in the future. He argued that Maharashtra was the first state to import oxygen through Roll-on/roll-off trains (RORO) and to divert nearly 100% oxygen production for medical purposes.

In its order, the Court directed the State to set up a mechanism by which specific needs at different places/hospitals can be identified and supply can be accordingly regulated.

The Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC), represented by Senior Advocate Anil Sakhare, denied there was a delay in getting RT-PCR tests and dismissed the Petitioner’s husband’s case, where he was asked to produce a private doctor’s prescription to get tested at a government hospital as a ‘misunderstanding’.

How do we disbelieve these versions of advocates of this Court? We are also hearing this? It is coming to such a point that everyone will have to ask for an RT-PCR test on camera to prove it was denied, the Court observed.

Based on the Petitioner’s recommendation, the bench directed the State to consider granting permission to more laboratories.

The Court directed the state to consider granting permission to more laboratories to undertake the RT-PCR tests and Rapid Antigen Tests, who would work as per the protocol involving the ICMR and the NABL. A decision in that regard be taken within one week from today and the eligible laboratories/centers be granted such permission to undertake the RT-PCR tests and Rapid Antigen Tests.

The Court stated that, 

“To ensure the availability of the drug, a Nodal Agent with the helpline number with adequate staff at its disposal to undertake the supply of the drug at the required hospital/Covid center shall be appointed. It would be an absolute obligation on the part of the State to keep the helpline number in operation all over the State for 24 hours”.

“We are equally concerned as to whether the persons who are affected by Covid -19 and have become critical are persons smoking cigarettes and bidis, as it is by now well-known that the Covid-19 virus affects the lungs and weak lungs are affected more severely. We are informed that there are studies undertaken on this aspect. However, there is no such information available in the public domain from the either the State or the Central Government. If this is an issue which would matter and is fatal to the health of the citizens, we are of the opinion that measures would be required to be taken to ban sale of cigarettes and bidis during the pandemic time,” the Court said.

We would accordingly adjourn the hearing of this petition to enable the respondents to file their respective replies to the petition , said the Court.

However, the Court issue the following interim directions:‐

(1) In so far as the supply of drug Remdesivir is concerned, the respondents are directed to take all possible steps to make available such drug to the Covid -19 affected patients in the following manner:

(i) The patient or his relatives shall not be made to run from pillar to post to find out/locate the drug.

(ii) The drug should be made available to the concerned patient at the hospital/Covid center where he is being treated.

(iii) To ensure the availability of the drug a Nodal Agent with the helpline number with adequate staff at its disposal to undertake the supply of the drug at the required hospital/Covid center shall be appointed.

(iv) It would be an absolute obligation on the part of the State to keep the helpline number in operation all over the State for 24 hours.

(2) The State is directed to consider granting permission to more laboratories to undertake the RT-PCR tests and Rapid Antigen Tests, who would work as per the protocol involving the ICMR and the NABL. A decision in that regard be taken within one week from today and the eligible laboratories/centers be granted such permissions to undertake the RT-PCR tests and Rapid Antigen Tests.

(3) We direct the Central Government and the State Government to place on record the response and the data in regard to the victims of Covid-19 who were addicted to smoking;

(4) We direct 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, so as to bring about a situation that no patient is deprived of treatment, for want of bed.

(5) We direct the State Government that all measures be taken to increase and regulate the supply of oxygen to all the government and private hospitals in the State and at the earliest notify a mechanism so that the specific needs at different places/hospitals can be identified and supply can be accordingly regulated. 

Read Also: Supreme Court Bar Association bids a warm farewell to Justice Bobde

“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. It is well established that every legal right has a corresponding legal duty. If the fellow citizens fail to take all precautions and fail to discharge their duty towards the society, it would certainly create further complications and make it difficult to arrest the spread of the pandemic. It is high time that every citizen undertakes to discharge his solemn obligation towards the society and refrain from indulging into such activities which would bring about a further surge in the spread of this deadly virus,” the order reads.

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