CHENNAI: A man holds boxes of Remdesivir, an antiviral drug used to treat COVID-19 coronavirus symptoms, purchased from government dispensary in Chennai yesterday. - AFP

NEW DELHI: Manish Aggarwal celebrates with weary relief after laying his hands on precious doses of COVID-19 medication for his sick father-a victory where thousands across India have not been so lucky. He has been waiting in line outside a small pharmacy in Delhi for eight hours to secure remdesivir, and is rewarded with just two of the recommended six doses.

"Finally, it's a victory!" he exclaims. But not everybody is as fortunate. In the same queue in the south of the Indian capital are more than 100 people with loved ones in hospital. Only 30 people receive the medicine. Scuffles break out every few minutes as people try to jump the queue. Three armed policemen are stationed nearby for crowd control. The officers keep telling those gathered that no more tokens-pieces of paper with a scribbled number on them-for remdesivir will be distributed today as stocks have run out, and they ask them to try somewhere else.

India is struggling with a catastrophic surge in coronavirus infections as well as severe shortages of medical supplies, with hospitals and crematoriums overwhelmed. "This government has failed us so much that those who can normally survive also die," says an exhausted Vinod Kumar, who has been waiting since 6 am. He has also had to battle to obtain oxygen for his sick relative. As evening falls and the medical supplier-one of the few places in Delhi where remdesivir is sold at its retail price-shuts up his shop, some people outside start crying.

They include a brother and sister in their teens who have been driving around looking for medication for their sick and hospitalized father. Despite India's status as the "pharmacy of the world", the biggest producer of generic drugs has been unable to meet the demand for antiviral medication such as remdesivir.

Many doctors say remdesivir is not essential for the treatment of Covid-19, but hospitals have been prescribing it anyway. Due to the shortages, families are being asked to procure it on their own. Many resort to the black market where the drug is sold for anywhere between $300 and $1,350 for a single vial. The usual price is between $12 and $75. "When I asked someone for six injections, he said, 'I can give you 600, you just need to pay me 60,000 rupees ($800) per injection,'" says Aggarwal.

His fight is not over-tomorrow he has to hit the streets again in search of more, until all six doses of remdesivir are administered to his father. "Our patients are suffering in the hospital and we are suffering on the road," he says. - AFP