Stocks of crucial Covid-19 drug run out

Nyeri Referral Hospital

Patients at Nyeri Referral Hospital wait for their temperatures to be checked. Intensive care units in Nairobi and several other counties are full as Covid-19 cases drastically rise. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Forty-five were on ventilators, some 159 on supplementary oxygen and 32 on observation.
  • The drug was out of stock in most pharmacies, with some opting not to stock it because of the high price

A drug used to treat critically ill Covid-19 patients can hardly be found in Kenya even as the third wave ravages communities.

Tocilizumab, developed by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, is an injectable treatment for adults with moderate to severely active rheumatoid arthritis, who have had an inadequate response to one or more drugs.

It can also reduce coronavirus patients’ need for mechanical ventilation and improve chances of survival.

The shortage of the drug is one of the challenges Kenyan Covid-19 patients are facing as more lethal variants are recorded.

The number of critically ill patients has been increasing, with intensive care units (ICU) at most hospitals in Nairobi full. A total of 236 patients in ICU were in need of oxygen yesterday.

Forty-five were on ventilators, some 159 on supplementary oxygen and 32 on observation.

Nairobi is one of the countries considered high-risk. The others are Nakuru, Machakos, Kiambu and Kajiado. Nairobi leads in the number of coronavirus cases.

For those able to get the drug from private hospitals or wholesalers, the price has increased drastically.

High price

The drug was out of stock in most pharmacies, with some opting not to stock it because of the high price.

“We have not had the drug since last year,” a pharmacist at Kenyatta National Hospital said.

At one of the private hospitals, the drug was going for Sh200,000 a dose. A patient needs two doses. Some have taken to social media to search for information on where and how they can get Tocilizumab.

“A friend is in ICU and we need the drug. We can’t seem to get it,” one Kenyan tweeted on Thursday.

Kenyans have taken to social media to air frustrations over the shortage of Tocilizumab and the high price. Kenya is one of the countries involved in trials of the drug to establish its effectiveness in managing Covid-19.

The trials are at Aga Khan University Hospital.

The drug is registered by the Pharmacy and Poisons Board (PPB) to be used on critically ill patients.

PPB chief executive Fred Siyoi told the Sunday Nation that the shortage of Tocilizumab is worldwide.

“Countries producing the drug are hoarding it for their people,” Dr Siyoi said.

Other countries involved in the trials are the United States, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Peru.

No combination

Some 389 patients have been enrolled for a larger global clinical trial dubbed “Evaluating Minority Patients with Actemra (Empacta)”.

The trial of Roche’s rheumatoid arthritis drug has enrolled 11 Covid-19 patients with moderate symptoms.

The experimental study will be complete in October and will see the drug studied on its own and not as a combination with others.

“This is a watershed moment for Kenya and Aga Khan University Hospital. We are taking part in an international clinical trial for the effectiveness of this novel drug,” said Dr Reena Shah, an associate professor of medicine in infectious diseases and principal investigator of the study in Kenya.

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