Lift antiviral drug curbs

Lift antiviral drug curbs

With new cases of Covid-19 having risen to more than 28,000 a day, and with soaring severe cases, restricted access to Covid-19 antiviral medicines is now a critical issue.

During the past week, academics and medical experts have called on the government to allow Covid-19 patients to gain more access to antiviral medicines, which are currently restricted to only severe cases and high-risk 608 groups comprising people aged 60 and older, those with any of seven underlying conditions and pregnant women.

Assoc Prof Jessda Denduangboripant, lecturer of the Faculty of Science at Chulalongkorn University, posted on his Facebook page that his family contracted the virus but no one has received any antiviral treatment. He had to purchase Molnupiravir, in possible violation of a Ministry of Public Health law.

The Rural Doctor Society, a professional group of state doctors monitoring public medical policy, has begged the government to end its monopoly on antiviral drugs so as to ensure the country has enough to treat Covid-19 patients and bring down the price. Dr Thiravat Hemachudha, chief of the Thai Red Cross's Emerging Infectious Diseases Health Science Centre, warned the state monopoly would affect all patients.

Private hospitals charge 10,600 baht for 40 capsules of Molnupiravir, branded Mylan, produced in India, enough for a five-day course. But the price of the drug sold in Laos, Cambodia and India is only 2,000 baht.

Thailand must provide affordable drugs that can be prescribed to patients with moderate symptoms at all hospitals and even pharmacies. Patients should get the medicines as soon as possible, he added.

The Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul has displayed a lack of inflexibility in response to the matter (as he has his cannabis decriminilsation policy previously). Mr Anutin insisted the government must be the sole importer of antiviral drugs distributed to state and private hospitals for Covid-19 patients. The drugs are for emergency use so a doctor's prescription is required because of the side effects, Mr Anutin said.

Such rigidity is out of sync with reality. In the wake of surging severe cases, the government should learn from its mistakes concerning vaccine rollouts in the past and end the monopoly of buying and distributing Covid-19 antiviral medicines.

The ministry should also study how other countries handle Covid-19 treatment medicines. In the US, participating pharmacies have been allowed to distribute two antiviral medications. Since July 28, people in New Zealand are eligible to obtain Molnupiravir from some pharmacies.

Laos has already received a patent to produce its own generic version of Molnupiravir under the name "Molacovir". That prompts the question of why the Thai ministry has not secured a right to produce such crucial medicines.

Unfortunately, Covid patients in Thailand have faced risks because they lack antiviral treatments.

They have to wait until their condition deteriorates to receive the medicines despite the fact earlier treatment could help prevent hospitalisation and death.

The constitution stipulates the rights of people to receive efficient and standard public health services universally. The government must provide affordable antiviral drugs.

Qualified pharmacies should be allowed to prescribe the drugs to patients with moderate symptoms under clear guidelines from the state.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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