Cagayan de Oro has run out of supplies of the antiviral drug remdesivir due to mounting COVID-19 cases in the city, forcing some families with members who contracted the deadly virus to search for the medicine elsewhere.
“If the cases continue to rise, there may be a shortage soon (throughout the Northern Mindanao region),” city health officer Dr. Lorraine Nery said in a press briefing on Friday, June 4.
Councilor Edgar Cabanlas, a COVID-19 survivor, said his family had to travel for hours in search of remdesivir because they could not find any in Cagayan de Oro. He said they finally found the drug in Misamis Occidental.
As the demand for the drug increased, its prices also soared to astronomical levels.
“Jose” (not his real name), a resident who had caught the deadly virus, told Rappler that his family was able to buy remdesivir in Malaybalay City in Bukidnon last week, but were forced to pay an exorbitant P90,000 for only six vials.
The Department of Health (DOH), in a statement in April, warned against overpricing, and said the investigational drug, originally developed for hepatitis C treatment, should only cost from P1,500 to P8,200 per vial.
The World Health Organization has cautioned against remdesivir’s use on COVID-19 patients in a “conditional recommendation” in November 2020. In the Philippines, hospitals and doctors are required to apply for compassionate special permits (CSP) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the purpose of COVID-19 treatment.
Cagayan de Oro councilors have started discussions on the city government’s plans to buy remdesivir, and to allow its use in city hall-run JR Borja Memorial General Hospital for COVID-19 patients amid the shortage.
Councilor Cabanlas joined at least three other city councilors – Lordan Suan, Reuben Daba, and Maria Lourdes Gaane – in the discussions.
Gaane, a physician, urged local health officials to speed up the process of applying for a CSP. She said city hall should start the procurement process at the same time.
Dr. Nery said local hospitals, including the state-run Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC), started running out of remdesivir supplies two weeks ago when COVID-19 infections in the city dramatically shot up to more than a hundred cases daily.
It was unclear though if some of these hospitals had CSPs, or if they were using remdesivir for other ailments.
City hall already has plans to buy an initial 1,000 vials of remdesivir, Sheila Ratunil of the City Health Insurance Office assured the City Council’s health committee on Thursday, June 3.
Dr. Magda Juanof JR Borja Memorial also said that the hospital and its doctors have already applied for CSPs.
However, Dr. Maria Elen Santua, development management officer of the DOH in Region 10, expressed apprehensions, calling on city hall to come up with regulations to avoid the indiscriminate use of remdesivir in the city.
In October 2020, remdesivir was the first drug given temporary approval by the US Food and Drug Administration for treating COVID-19 patients. Its use, however, encountered rough sailing in the Philippine Congress after some of its members accused the DOH of “favoring the drug over others” because the prices were “excessive.”
Two of the congressmen who questioned it were Representatives Michael Defensor of Anakalusugan and Lito Atienza of Buhay, known advocates of the use of the antiparasitic drug ivermectin against COVID-19 infections.
President Rodrigo Duterte has placed Cagayan de Oro under the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ) classification from June 1 to 15.
As of Saturday, June 5, the active COVID-19 cases in Cagayan de Oro have risen to 1,446. – Rappler.com