Covid-19: Gujarat HC says state heading towards a “health emergency”, Gov’t stays silent

Chief Justice Vikram Nath, directed the high court registry to register a fresh suo motu PIL titled "In Re : Uncontrolled upsurge and serious management issues in COVID control"; on Sunday Gujarat reported 5,469 new cases 

Gujarat covid cases
Representation Image | Economic Times

Covid-19 surge in Gujarat is yet to get a sharp reaction from the Centre, unlike Maharashtra where the Union Health Minister blamed the government and the people for the crisis. While the political leadership is busy playing a blame game, and allegations emerge of hoarding of critical medicine in the state, the Gujarat High Court has sounded an alert.

On Sunday, March 10, the Gujarat HC observed that media reports on the pandemic indicate that the state was heading towards a “health emergency of sorts” and initiated a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) over the coronavirus situation in the state. The chief justice of the high court reportedly said that “news channels are flooded with the harrowing tales, unfortunate and unimaginable difficulties and unmanageable conditions of the infrastructure,” stated media reports. He noted that there exists a “shortfall or deficit of not only testing, beds and ICU, but also supply of oxygen and basic medicines like Ramdesivir, etc”.

Chief Justice Vikram Nath, through an oral order, has directed the high court registry to register a fresh suo motu PIL titled “In Re : Uncontrolled upsurge and serious management issues in COVID control”, reported the Indian Express. The first such PIL addressing the Covid-19 crisis was registered by the Gujarat HC last year, and as reported by IE, it is still heard at regular intervals.

Now the chief justice has asked that the Gujarat government, its health department as well as the central government be made parties in the fresh PIL. It is being heard online today, by the division bench comprising Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice Bhargav D Karia.



Who is responsible for the Remdesivir crisis in Gujarat?

The Bharatiya Janata Party has come out to defend its Gujarat unit chief C R Paatil who has been criticised by the Opposition parties over the free distribution of Remdesivir. The state is reported to be short of this antiviral drug, that is used in the treatment of Covid-19. Multiple news reports have shown crowds waiting for the drug to be given. According to media reports, long queues were seen outside “both Zydus hospitals — which renewed its sale with stricter conditions — and the BJP office in Navsari, where the party distributed it for free for the second day”.



According to a statement by Gujarat BJP media convener Yagnesh Dave said, “BJP started providing Remdesivir injections in Surat free of cost…with cooperation of local traders. As per the instructions of our president C R Paatil, local traders bought (the drug) in whichever available quantity on their own, from Gujarat and outside… Cases (of Covid-19) have started increasing in Surat, so to help the needy, to save their lives, injections are being given free of cost…”

However the drug is said to be prescription only, and the IE quotes a source confirming that “individual entities are generally not authorised to access this drug. It is mainly for emergency use with informed consent.” This included any political parties, “cannot procure Remdesivir, because they do not have a wholesale licence to buy and stock drugs. Pharmacies can store this drug, but they can only supply it based on a prescription,” the official was quoted as saying. The drug was cleared for “restricted use in an emergency situation on June 1, 2020” it is prohibited for unmonitored supply in the open market. According to media reports Remdesivir is only to be given by hospitals and pharmacists on prescription of a doctor treating Covid-19. The patient also has to sign an informed consent form before it is administered to them.

According to IE Ahmedabad-based Zydus Cadila started selling remdesivir from its pharmacy at the hospital from April 5 at a subsidised rate of Rs 899 per 100 mg lyophilized injection, and had planned to sell it until April 12. However, stocks ran out on Friday night, and the hospital said it “will not be able to dispense the drug till further notice”. That same day, Paatil announced that the BJP would distribute the drug for free, “we have made arrangements to buy 5,000 remdesivir injections from Zydus, and have placed orders. We will get supply of 500 to 1,000 injections daily from the company for Surat city. Patients from districts in South Gujarat and also from Surat city, who face problems in getting Remdesivir injections, can come to the BJP office, show the treatment file, doctor’s number, and other necessary details, which will be verified by our people in the BJP office, and later such injections will be given free of cost to them,” he told IE.

Meanwhile, the Centre has prohibited the exports of injection Remdesivir, and Remdesivir Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) in an order issued on Sunday stating that “India is witnessing a recent surge in Covid cases. As on 11.04.2021, there are 11.08 lakh active COVID cases and they are steadily increasing. This has led to a sudden spike in demand for Injection Remdesivir used in treatment of Covid patients. There is a potential of further increase in this demand in the coming days.”

According to the Centre, seven Indian companies are producing the Remdesivir injection under voluntary licensing agreement with M/s. Gilead Sciences, USA. They have an installed capacity of about 38.80 lakh units per month. The Government of India has “prohibited the exports of Injection Remdesivir and Remdesivir Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) till the situation improves.” The Government of India has also told the States that “Remdesivir is listed as an Investigational Therapy, i.e. where informed and shared decision making is essential, besides taking note of contra indications mentioned in the detailed guidelines.”

Gujarat’s crematoriums are overworked

In a tragic reminder of the Covid-19 horror in the state, social media and news reports are full of photos of cremation grounds working over capacity. According to a news report in Times Of India pyres at crematoriums in at least four major cities of Gujarat — Surat, Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Rajkot — have been burning incessantly and more bodies are in queue for their final rites. There is a deluge and crematoriums are “expanding their boundaries to accommodate the bodies”. However the state government has maintained low numbers of Covid-19 mortality and stated that “only 49 Covid deaths were recorded across Gujarat on Saturday, taking its overall Covid toll to 4,746.” According to TOI, in Surat, the Ramnath Ghela Crematorium (RGC), Umra, and Kurukshetra Crematorium (KC), Jahangirpura, are now receiving around 80 bodies every day. Ashwini Kumar Crematorium (AKC), Surat’s biggest one, has been cremating 110 bodies on average daily, stated the news reports. Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani meanwhile, has denied reports that the state government was hiding the true Covid death data. He told the media, “As per the guidelines of the ICMR, if a comorbid patient dies, then a committee of experts decides the primary and secondary causes of death. If that committee identifies the main cause of the death as heart attack, then even though the patient was infected with coronavirus, such death is not counted as Covid death. The same system is followed in the entire country.” 



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