Karnataka government has put at jeopardy the lives of around 20,000 thalassemia patients in the state. It has delayed procurement and distribution of drugs for these patients, which it is supposed to be supplying them with, at no cost. Apparently, the Covid-19 pandemic is to blame. Tendering for procurement of a new consignment of drugs was to take place in February when the pandemic struck. With officials diverting their attention to the containment of the coronavirus and lockdowns coming into force, the tendering process for thalassemia drugs fell by the wayside and procurement of these medicines was put on hold. However, this is an untenable excuse as these are life-saving drugs. Moreover, such delays in the procurement process for thalassemia drugs have happened in the past as well. Last year, the Delhi government cancelled the tender for procurement of these drugs as there was only one tender. While there are procedures to be followed, why isn’t the process initiated in advance? As if the delay in procurement of the thalassemia drugs in Karnataka isn’t bad enough, it has been reported that officials erred in timely distribution of medicines as well. It has emerged that a consignment of 3,000 high-value Asurna tablets were not distributed on time and allowed to expire. It is official inefficiency, apathy and insensitivity to the plight of patients, not the pandemic that is to blame for Karnataka’s failure to procure life-saving drugs.
Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder, which if untreated, can lead to organ damage and even death. Patients need life-long treatment, which includes regular blood tests, blood transfusions and medication. Not only is the disorder a difficult one to cope with but also it imposes a heavy financial burden on the patient and her family as transfusions and drugs are expensive. It is to ease this financial burden on patients that the Government of India has been providing medicines free of cost to thalassemia patients through the National Health Mission. In fact, Karnataka has been providing free transfusion to the patients. Its derailment of the supply of medicines is therefore hard to accept as patients are desperately trying to access medicines on their own. This isn’t an option for the vast majority of thalassemia patients as they cannot afford the medication. Their lives are at risk.
With some 40 million carriers, India is the world’s thalassemia capital. Ten thousand babies with thalassemia are born each year. Health authorities cannot fail them. Accountability for procurement and distribution should be fixed and the guilty taken to task. The government must resume supply of medicines immediately.