Remdesivir, a promising antiviral drug to treat Covid-19 patients, is going to reach government hospitals dedicated to treating coronavirus patients in the last week of May.
The expensive drug will be given free of cost to only critical patients undergoing treatment in those hospitals.
Habibur Rahman Khan, additional secretary (Admin) of the Health Service Division and Health Ministry spokesperson, said the government will bear the costs of Remdisivir for coronavirus patients even though it is expensive. But patients being treatment in private hospitals will not get it free of cost.
All patients will not need the drug. Only patients with critical conditions will be given it. The drug only reduces the time of recovery of Covid-19 patients. The hospital stay of patients will come down to 11 days from the existing 15 days, he added.
Remdesivir, that was used to cure Ebola, is now being touted as the best shot against Covid-19. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared the drug for emergency use to treat coronavirus patients. The Directorate General of Drug Administration in Bangladesh has also permitted eight companies in the country to manufacture the drug.
Of them, Eskayef and Beximco have already gone into production while Incepta Pharmaceuticals, Square, Beacon, Healthcare, Popular and Acme Laboratories are preparing for it.
Beximco Pharmaceuticals Chief Operating Officer Rabbur Reza told The Business Standard that the Remdesivir they manufacture will be priced at Tk5,000-Tk6,000 per single dose. A coronavirus patient may need 5-11 doses as per doctor's advice. Other companies have also fixed the same price for the drug.
Ruhul Amin, a director of the Directorate General of Drug Administration, said, "The US FDA has permitted the drug for emergency use as they have found it effective to some extent. Therefore, we have also permitted eight companies to produce it."
"During marketing authorisation, we have asked the companies firstly to supply the drug to the government hospitals treating Covid-19 patients. If necessary, the drug will be given to private hospitals, but on certain conditions. We are prioritising government hospitals because most government hospitals have been dedicated to the treatment of Covid-19 patients. The medicine will not be available in pharmacies," he added.
Use of remdesivir will begin in the country this month
Abul Kalam Azad, principal of Dhaka Medical College and a member of the clinical management committee on Covid-19 treatment, told The Business Standard, "The clinical trial of Remdesivir will begin in our country very soon. Preparation is on to conduct the trial on 20 out of our 50 selected patients. Besides, Bangladesh is also going to enter the solidarity clinical trial of the World Health Organisation by sending its produced Remdesivir to them."
"After the end of clinical trials, we will be able to use Remdesivir on Covid-19 patients in the last week of the current month. This drug can be used in any hospital in the country where there are medicine experts.
Experts stress stopping unnecessary use of Remdesivir
Professor Sayedur Rahman, chairman of the Pharmacology Department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, said the US FDA has given an emergency use authorisation to Remdesivir, meaning it can be used in four categories on an emergency basis.
It has been mentioned as a compassionate use only for hospitalised patients who are seriously ill, whose oxygen concentration is below 94 and who need a ventilator, he said.
He further said, "The difficulty in Bangladesh is that this medicine may be given to others instead of those who really need it.
"Even if the patient dies due to this medicine, the cause of death will not be known because there is no post-mortem anywhere for dead Covid-19 patients."
So, the government should issue clear instructions about it under the supervision of specialised doctors as well as the conditions stated in the US, Sayedur opined.
Professor Sayedur said the abuse can be stopped if the government procures it in bulk and gives to designated hospitals. But it cannot be sold in the market, he remarked.