The government has finally taken notice of the shortage of medicines in the country, as desperate people raise hue and cry to save their loved ones. The shortage particularly concerns Tocilizumab (Actemra) and Remdesivir injections, which are used for management of COVID-19 patients showing particular symptoms. While previously authorised distributors claimed unavailability, the injections were in fact being sold on the black market for exorbitant prices. High demand and limited supply meant that illegal dealers are charging whatever they like for the drugs.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza has warned of grave consequences for such elements; it is hoped that words will lead to action. The fact is that the government dropped the ball on this instance. The good measures that it has taken now, which includes market authorisation for two importers and 12 local manufacturers of Remdesivir and allowing import from the US instead of Japan only, should have been taken at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak. The government should also investigate that despite the arrival of consignments, why were authorised distributors claiming unavailability and how the medicine appeared in the black market. If previous incidents are anything to go by, foul play cannot be ruled out without a proper inquiry.

To manage healthcare effectively during these difficult times, it is essential to exercise strict oversight and control over processes of procurement and distribution. The government would do well to routinely communicate with doctors and anticipate which drugs will be required for treatments of patients in the weeks and months ahead. The current trajectory leaves no ambiguity over the fact that demand for medicines will rise exponentially along with the cases. Procurement lines should be opened accordingly. In doing this, quality control should not be compromised. Another artificial crisis must not be allowed to wreak havoc in the lives of already distressed people.