TB drugs stock-outs trigger protests

Paediatric drug buffer stocks to last one month; emergency drug procurement by July 15

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Wednesday 26 June 2013

Nirman Bhavan in New Delhi, that houses the Union health ministry office, was the scene of protests organised by civil society representatives, organisations and patients of tuberculosis on Wednesday. The agitators were protesting against the ongoing stock-out of medicines for tuberculosis (TB) that have led to the interruption of treatment for patients across the country.

For the past few months, there have been persistent stock-outs of TB medication   due to a delay in the annual tendering and procurement of medicines by the Central TB division of the health ministry. Shortages are being reported from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Nagaland and other areas. A week ago, health activists had said they would write to the prime minister, demanding action against officials responsible for the shortage.

Emergency measures

While government officials continue to deny there is a scarcity of TB drugs, the health ministry is finally placing emergency orders for paediatric doses of TB medication. The Revised National TB Control Programme (RNTCP) has also written to the states to procure certain TB medicines locally. Emergency approval to procure medicines locally has been granted to the states, but this has its own set of problems. Besides fragmenting the market and destroying pooling power, procurement is disorganized and not always on time, say agitators.

Warnings were ignored

The growing number of drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) cases in India, lends greater urgency to addressing the problem of procurement of quality TB drugs.

“In the past one year, we had written several times to RNTCP and the health ministry, warning them about imminent stock outs,” says Blessina Kumar, patient advocate and vice chair, Stop TB Partnership.  “Senior officials of the health ministry have been unwilling or unable to arrange the timely procurement of TB drugs on which lives depend. We will not be held hostage to official incompetence or negligence; patients have the right to treatment,” she adds.

Later, representatives of the protesting groups were called for a meeting with officials of RNTCP and assured of immediate action. The officials reportedly accepted that there is a low buffer stock for TB paediatric drugs, which will last one month. They say drug procurement is being done on emergency basis and stocks will be replenished by July 15.

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