Thirunavu, the owner of a pharmacy in Coimbatore, is worried. For the last few months, he has been facing economic distress. He says that a perception that pharmacies were making a profit during the COVID-19 pandemic is false and adds that pharmacists feel excluded from the list of frontline warriors. “General doctors and senior specialist doctors were not taking up individual consultation during the complete lockdown, which reduced our sales. Till now, many of the hospitals are handling only emergency cases, so the sales have definitely come down,” Thirunavu says.
The purchasing capacity of the people has also reduced and they are suffering without money to even buy medicines, he added. Talking about the current scenario, Thirunavu said, “Doctors are advising patients to take a coronavirus test before consultation. Hence, many people try to postpone the checkups. We have not reached the usual sale figures and we still have issues with the availability of the drugs and transportation system. Also, general physicians are yet to provide consultations for all patients.”
Pharmacists in Tamil Nadu said that they are slowly recovering from the loss, but continue to work with fear of contracting the virus and grapple without insurance coverage and compensation provided by the government for frontline medical professionals, as they are considered employees of the private sector.
Pharmacies and pharmacists have been functioning without a break from when the pandemic hit and many have fallen ill during the period due to direct contact with patients. The Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association has now demanded that the state government include them under the list of frontline workers and provide necessary benefits. They also said that over 10 members of the association succumbed to the virus so far.
Elangovan, Treasurer of the association, said, “Initially people ordered medicines in bulk, so there was a view that the sales increased, but it was not true. The sales only decreased during the lockdown.”
“Small shops are unable to make profit and there are salary cuts,” Elagovan, who owns a medical shop in Chennai, added.
Reiterating the same, K Manoharan, President of Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association said, “Many sectors were closed during the coronavirus lockdown and experienced losses beyond repair. So we cannot say that we faced similar losses, but we did not make a profit either. We were only able to pay the rent and salary for the workers. However, many smaller shops functioned only with the help of our association.”
During this time, the association office bearers also said that they worked by putting their lives at risk and getting exposed to the infection. Elangovan said, “Till now, 10 pharmacists have succumbed to coronavirus and many workers have been affected due to the infection. Among the 10 shop owners who succumbed, most of them are from Chennai, Kancheepuram, Thiruvallur and Chengalpattu districts. Two more people died from other districts.”
He said, “Though we work similarly to frontline warriors we are not included for the coronavirus benefits provided by the government.
Considering all this, the Tamil Nadu Druggist and Chemists Association demanded that the government provide Rs 25 lakh compensation announced for the death of frontline warriors who succumb due to the coronavirus and Rs 2 lakh for the people who contract the infection during the duty.