The Financial Express

An awe-inspiring achievement  

Published: May 09, 2020 22:27:22 | Updated: May 11, 2020 22:49:04

An awe-inspiring achievement   

That the country has started producing the generic version of an antiviral drug, remdesivir, is a piece of welcome news. One leading pharmaceutical company has already achieved this milestone and five more are now at different stages of doing so. The production of this highly sophisticated drug, that too within days after the emergency approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) for use on the Covid-19 patients, does bring to the fore again the great efficiency level that the country's pharmaceutical industry has acquired over the past four decades.

Actually, the exemptions that Bangladesh enjoys as a least developed country (LDC) under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) has made things easier for the local drug manufacturers, in terms of both time and money.  

Though remdesivir, a generic drug patented by the US biopharmaceutical company Gilead sciences, is not any magic bullet against Covid-19, its application reportedly does reduce the hospital-stay time for some patients. Japan a couple of days back has also approved it for use on serious Covid patients. Development of more drugs with greater ability to kill coronavirus will be most welcome until an effective vaccine is available.

Since there is no known cure for the disease, caused by the novel coronavirus until now, remdesivir, which was originally developed to fight ebola virus infection, has raised some hope notwithstanding the fact that it does have limited effect on survival rate of serious  Covid patients. Doctors across the world might soon start applying the drug in a limited scale on Covid patients. However, there remains a barrier to the use of the drug that is injected into patients, particularly in poor countries.  The drug is too expensive.

Locally, its price, according to indications given by the companies involved in the production of remdesivir, is likely to be around Tk 5000 per vial. The quantity used on each patient varies between 6 and 11 vials, depending on their physical conditions. The price of the drug in Bangladesh though much cheaper than that of any developed and developing country is likely to be prohibitive in the case of most patients. So, relevant authorities  do need to think about ways of keeping the price of the drug affordable for patients coming from poor and low-income families.

It is almost certain that the deadly coronavirus that has, though temporarily, changed the world will continue to unsettle life and livelihoods for some more time. The government here has opted for restarting the economic activities though in a limited scale despite the fact many, including health experts, have expressed their reservations about the move. It is hard to believe that the government is not aware of the prevailing corona situation. Yet another equally important issue-- saving livelihoods--- might have compelled the policymakers to ease the shutdown that has been in force since late March.

The situation is truly very delicate. Much would depend on the government's ability to ensure people's strict adherence to health safety guidelines as suggested by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Any further deterioration of the situation, in terms of infection and death rates, is likely to expose the government to strong criticism.

It is, thus, important for the policymakers to keep infection rate at minimum level through extensive testing and contact tracing. Ensuring necessary treatment to critical Covid-19 patients is also an important task on the part of the government. Remdesivir despite its limited success offers an opportunity to this end.

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