In the next few weeks, India will face a grim reckoning with the coronavirus pandemic as it accelerates in every corner of the nation. Through April and May, the Narendra Modi-led government’s policy to restrict testing has fuelled the pandemic, and as July approaches, the worst of the outbreak is unfolding in the country’s hospitals.
All through June, coronavirus patients have had a slow, horrible realisation that the Indian government did not have a single vial of a one of the few promising experimental drugs being used to treat the disease: Remdesivir. The drug, patented by American pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, first emerged as a possible treatment in January, when it showed anti-viral activity in COVID-19 patients in China. By May, it had gained a reputation for reducing the recovery time of COVID-19 patients after the New England Journal of Medicine published a study stating Remdesivir shortened the duration of the illness by four days. In India, however, the government had failed to anticipate the demand for the drug, and create a stockpile, despite granting an emergency, sweetheart deal to Gilead Sciences.
On 1 May, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved Remdesivir for “emergency use,” and Gilead Sciences, which had 1.5 million doses in its stockpile, gave the majority of it to the US. That’s when other nations truly began scrambling for the drug.