Ensure unscrupulous persons do not hoard medicines required for treating COVID-19: HC to Centre

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New Delhi, Apr 20 (PTI) The Delhi High Court on Tuesday ordered the Centre to issue necessary directions and also undertake regular checking to prevent 'unscrupulous' persons from hoarding life saving medicines, like Remdesivir, which is leading to a scarcity of it in the market for the needy patients.

It also expressed hope that the Central government was allocating or diverting resources and medicines, like Remdesivir, based on the needs and situation of each state, otherwise 'people will have blood on their hands'.

'We will be doomed,' a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli said with regard to any non-application of mind in allocation and diversion of resources and medicines.

The bench said that according to news reports critical medicine required by COVID-19 patients were in short supply and also being hoarded or sold at a premium on the black market by some 'unscrupulous' persons.

It directed the Centre and its agencies to issue necessary directions in this regard to their licensees and also undertake regular checking to unearth those hoarding the medicines.

To augment the supply of medicines required for treatment of COVID-19, the bench said that the central government 'should swing into action' by speaking to the manufacturers, patent holders and licensees of these drugs with regard to ramping up their production capacity in the emergent situation.

The bench further said that the Patents Act provides for compulsory licensing and looking at the prevailing situation the central government can make out a case for exercising its power under the statue.

It said the best course of action would be to encourage the existing manufacturers to ramp up their production on a war footing and to grant voluntary license to others to manufacture the requisite drugs, failing which the Centre can exercise its powers under the Act 'since people's lives, which are being lost at a very fast rate in the country, take priority over everything else'.

The bench said if the government exercises its powers then the patent holders and manufacturers can be adequately compensated by fixing a fair license fee as it is on account of their hard work and invention that these medicines are available for the public at large.

The court also said that the Centre should dynamically review the distribution of Remdesivir to states and union territories (UTs) on the basis of the serious active COVID patients who need the medicine.

'This is essential to maximize the efficient use of the life saving drug,' it said.

According to an affidavit filed by the Health Ministry, 10.40 lakh vials of Remdesivir was supplied to all the states and UTs between April 11-19, out of which 40,132 vials have been supplied to Delhi. 'Meanwhile, immediate permission has been granted to license holders for manufacturing of the Remdesivir at 20 additional sites adding production capacity of 35.3 lakh vials /month. This would ramp up the production capacity for manufacturing to around 74.10lakh vials/month,' the ministry said.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Chetan Sharma and central government standing counsel Moniika Arora told the court that medical opinion was divided on use of Remdesivir.

Senior advocate Rahul Mehra, appearing for the Delhi government, told the court that doctors were prescribing Remdesivir and people are unable to get it from the market despite having prescriptions.

'Long and short of it is that it (Remdesivir) is in short supply,' the bench said and added that giving clearance for setting up units to manufacture would not yield quick results as establishing the facilities for manufacture takes time.

The observations by the bench came during the hearing of a disposed of petition related to COVID-19 tests and the high court revived it on April 19 by noting that the virus has raised its 'ugly head' once again and the pandemic is raging with much greater intensity and 'it is evident that the healthcare infrastructure is at the stage of imminent collapse'. PTI HMP RKS RKS