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Lack of vital drug in Karnataka's govt hospitals hits thalassemia patients   

Once available for free at major government hospitals, the Desferal injection has been missing from their shelves since 2020, affecting approximately 17,000 thalassemia patients across Karnataka.
Last Updated : 01 October 2023, 22:06 IST

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Suresh (name changed), a thalassemia patient, spends over Rs 10,000 a month for Desferal injection to remove excessive iron in his bloodstream, a consequence of frequent transfusions.

Once available for free at major government hospitals, the Desferal injection has been missing from their shelves since 2020, affecting approximately 17,000 thalassemia patients across Karnataka, who, like Suresh, depend on this lifesaving drug.

Despite the Karnataka State Medical Supplies Corporation floating a tender to procure the Desferal injection a few months ago, there were no takers, said a health department official, amid closure this week of tenders floated for the second time. Novartis is the sole producer of the Desferal injection.

Some patients also complain about the quality of the Deferasirox oral tablets stocked in government hospitals. The tablet from the generic brand that won the contract is causing side effects, says Shamla (name changed), another patient.

"It causes side effects like vomiting, leaves a burning sensation in the throat, and gastritis. I bought one month's tablets for daily use. But due to the side effects, I'm taking it intermittently over the past two months," said Shamla, whose doctor issued a letter stating she could not tolerate the drug.

Spiralling costs

Shamla used to buy the tablet from another brand previously. But like many thalassemia patients, she requires both Deferasirox tablets and Desferal injection for iron chelation. Buying both the tablet and injection from private shops would spiral her monthly costs to around Rs 6,700 though she takes fewer injections than required.

A BCom graduate, Shamla is unemployed as her health condition restricts her from travelling.

Suresh said that patients could incur expenses exceeding Rs 20,000 for both the tablet and the injection from the private sector, including syringes and blood filters during transfusion.

A health department official said that they would look into the side effects of the tablets, if patients give their complaints. "This is a licensed drug,” he added.

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Published 01 October 2023, 22:06 IST

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