Act now on favipiravir

Act now on favipiravir

Access to medicine can make a life-and-death difference amid the Covid-19 emergency. The government cannot afford to fail in the crucial mission of securing enough of the antiviral medication favipiravir to cover the rapid increase of patients.

Action should be taken now and not at the last minute.

Examples abound that show how a false sense of security which resulted in delayed responses have pushed the country deeper into crisis than it should have.

The procurement of Covid-19 vaccines is one. Investment to expand the capacity of public health infrastructure is another.

Warnings about a possible shortage of favipiravir, the primary medicine used to treat Covid-19 patients with moderate to severe symptoms, have been sounded time and again.

In early May members of the Mor Chonnabote (Rural Doctors) club -- a well-regarded association of medical doctors -- raised the alarm that the country could face shortage of favipiravir.

The antiviral medicine is crucial in the fight against Covid-19. Doctors use it to treat lung infections, which are a major cause of death among Covid-19 patients.

This week the Pharmacy Council of Thailand issued a statement calling on the government to speed up local production of the medicine as the number of new infections is inching towards 20,000 a day.

Since each patient needs 50-70 pills throughout their treatment cycle, the council estimated that the demand for favipiravir could shoot up to a million pills a day or 30 million a month.

Currently, the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) can produce only two to four million pills monthly, far short of the estimated 30 million needed.

The GPO pledged that it would scale up production for August and September to 23 million pills per month and up to 40 million per month in October. Yet, there have been complaints from patients in the home or community isolation schemes saying they cannot access the medicine.

To cope with the rising demand, the Ministry of Public Health has imported the medicine mostly from Japan at 125 baht per tablet -- twice the cost of the generic version produced here by the GPO.

Thammasat University Hospital echoed the council's concern warning the country could face a favipiravir shortage as soon as next week.

The Pharmacy Council of Thailand offered a few suggestions worth considering.

The council advised that the government map out a clear policy to ensure the country has medical security, with an adequate stockpile of the antiviral medication.

Instead of relying on the more expensive imported version, the council suggested that the GPO ramp up its production to 30 million tablets a month.

If the expansion affects the GPO's production of other medicines, it should engage other pharmaceutical companies to plug the gap.

The council also suggested that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to expedite the process of approving the medicine for distribution onto the market.

The government has so far insisted that it has enough stockpiles of the antiviral medication as well as other equipment to meet the rising demand. But as the council suggested, a clearer plan with adequate details is needed to make sure the country will not face a shortage. The matter is too important to leave any room for doubt.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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