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Anti-rabies vaccine shortages continue

An Indian Army vet administers the anti-rabies vaccine to a dog.
An Indian Army vet administers the anti-rabies vaccine to a dog.

Shortages of the anti-rabies vaccine and other essential medicines continue to plague public hospitals across the country, with states turning to one another for assistance.

So far, the onus for supply has been on Tamil Nadu. Andhra Pradesh, Delhi and Karnataka have also requested for supplies of essential medicines including the anti-rabies vaccine from the Tamil Nadu Medical Services Corporation. The Corporation released 50,000 vials of the anti-rabies vaccine to Andhra Pradesh and Delhi (though not to Karnataka). However, in Tamil Nadu itself the situation is dire at many medical colleges. Doctors have reportedly had to turn patients away because of inadequate supplies of some medicines and inability to find appropriate substitutes.

“32 drugs were in short supply, but we managed to get at least five of them,” one official was quoted as saying in the Times of India. However, they added, “it will take at least two weeks for normalcy to return.”

Many hospitals facing shortages are asking facilities with surplus. Meanwhile, manufacturers are struggling to cope with demand because of a dearth of necessary active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

The biggest reason for shortage of supply has been China. Formerly, these vaccines were sourced from China but as many firms there are now shuttered, the price of drug manufacturing is going up due to the comparative expenses of domestically produced APIs. As many medicines have had their prices capped, this is creating difficulties for manufacturers as many pharmaceutical ingredients themselves are not price-capped.

Issues surrounding medicines shortage have been looming over India for some time, particularly when it comes to the anti-rabies vaccine. Earlier this year, Health Issues India reported that the Government had proposed capping or banning exports of the anti-rabies vaccine to address shortfalls across India, to address overall shortages of the vaccine of between twenty and eighty percent in every state and union territory.

Ensuring sufficient access to medicines is vital if there is to be a comprehensive effort to enhance the quality of healthcare services in India. The anti-rabies vaccine is a notable example of this. It is able to prevent a disease that, in 2017, killed everyone it infected, yet it is in dangerously short supply. Without access to the vaccine, and other essential medicines, patients will continue to suffer needlessly.

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