Amid lockdown, Sikkim’s kidney patients struggle for medicines; chemists’ association comes to rescue

Amid lockdown, Sikkim’s kidney patients struggle for medicines; chemists’ association comes to rescue

In the midst of the world wide COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s constantly burgeoning number of positive cases and jump scares in the state due to possible cases, another reason for alarm has come to light— a scarcity of life saving drugs for kidney transplant patients in the state.

On Tuesday (31 March), Naren Rai, an employee of Sikkim Supreme, informed Sikkim Chronicle on the plight of kidney transplant patients. Rai, highlighted on the increasing number of kidney patients in Sikkim, who have had kidney transplants done in medical hub states like Delhi and Chennai. These transplant patients he informed, usually order their life saving drugs from the company that manufacture them at a wholesale price most often from Delhi which costs them almost 30% lesser than other state’s manufacturers. Even though the Centre Government’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has exempted medical establishments which include their manufacturing and distribution, in public and private sectors like dispensaries, chemists, medical equipment shops, laboratories, clinics, nursing homes and the delivery of all essential goods, including food, pharmaceuticals and medical equipments, through e-commerce, most pharmaceutical companies in Delhi, that provide these life saving drugs are distributing them only in and around the capital and most have stopped distribution through courier services. Even online order is refused as the courier companies which have a tie-up with brands for distribution are not ready to deliver these life-saving drugs.

Most kidney transplant patients typically have to take between 5 to 15 medications daily, with doses due one to four times daily. These life saving drugs or immunosuppressive medications prevent rejection of the transplant kidney and also assists in kidney function of the body. If a transplant patient misses his/ her daily dosage of the medication, it could lead to serious problems including acute rejection, chronic transplant damage and ultimately the failure of a transplant.

Sikkim Chronicle spoke to many such kidney transplant patients in the state about their woes of availability of these life saving drugs.

Ongmit Lepcha, from Poklok-Kamrang, South Sikkim, who comes under BPL family and is currently working under the One Family One Job (OFOJ) scheme, did her kidney transplant in 2014 in Delhi and is the sole breadwinner of her family, has life saving drugs that will last her till 23 April.

Another transplant patient Chewang Tashi Bhutia from Gangtok who underwent his second transplant operation due to a snake bite in Delhi in 2017, who has medicine to last only for the next 15 days, when asked what he would do after 15 days and if the lockdown was to continue, Bhutia said, “the only other option I have is bleak, since all interstate travel is also banned, no one from my family can also travel and fetch these medicines. We are completely handicapped.”

Bindhya Rai from Bhusuk, East Sikkim, who underwent her surgery in 2000 informed Sikkim Chronicle that, though she contacted various manufactures in Delhi, Kolkata and Siliguri to order the medicines, most did not even answer her calls, which shows the amount of availability in regard to these particular medicines.

One more transplant patient, Dhan Bahadur Manger, a Headmaster from Kopchey, Rhenock, East Sikkim, who in 2019 went through his transplant surgery, seemed frantic when informing that he has only enough medicines to last till 28 April. Though Manger has tried to order his medicines online, his requests have gone through, but no confirmation has been given.

Other patients like B.B Subba from Pakyong, East Sikkim, who underwent his transplant operation in 2018, fearing a national lockdown, got enough life saving drugs to last till December during his last visit to Kolkata for an annual review.

Likewise, Karma Tshering Bhutia from Rongey, East Sikkim, who underwent his transplant surgery in 2011, also fearing a lockdown ordered his medicines a few weeks prior to the lockdown announcement and the medicines was delivered just days before the curfew.

Sikkim Chronicle in its search found an alarming number of transplant patients who have medicines that will last them only until April. If the non-distribution of life saving drugs were to continue by manufacturing companies, it would lead to a literal ‘do or die’ situation. These life saving drugs which come under the ‘essential commodities’ guideline circulated by the MHA, have now become absolutely essential to these patients.

As a ray of hope in these dark times, the President of All Chemist Association of Sikkim, Ramesh Periwal, informed Sikkim Chronicle that the All Chemist Association have received approval from the DC, East, Raj Yadav, for the transportation and delivery of these drugs to the transplant patients from a Siliguri manufacturer at the normal wholesale rate instead of overcharged prices. The District Collector also presented the association with a vehicle to assist them in transportation and delivery. The association will be in-charge of the handover and transport of the medicines.

Kidney transplant patients in need of urgent delivery of their immunosuppressive medications may contact the All Chemist Association of Sikkim’s President at 9832092092 with proper and exact dosage and prescription.