• Alternatives to Actemra being considered for critical patients
• Saudi Arabia approves Sinopharm, Sinovac plus booster shot for inbound travellers
• Sherry criticises govt for increasing prices of life-saving drugs
ISLAMABAD: As the country records the highest number of casualties since May 3, health authorities are considering announcing alternatives to Actemra which is given to critically-ill Covid-19 patients.
In another development, Saudi Arabia has added Sinopharm and Sinovac to its list of approved vaccines for inbound travellers.
On the other hand, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leader Senator Sherry Rehman lashed out at Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government for once again increasing prices of life-saving drugs.
According to data of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), 141 people lost their battle against the deadly virus and 4,199 more got infected during the last 24 hours. This was the highest death toll since May 3 when 161 patients had succumbed to coronavirus.
The data further revealed that the number of active cases was 91,204 as of Aug 25, with 503 patients on ventilators.
A senior official of the Ministry of National Health Services, requesting not to be named, said Tocilizumab — sold under the brand name Actemra — was given to critically-ill patients but it had become short across the globe.
“We tried to get 1,000 vials of Actemra on Tuesday but even the company could not arrange the injection as the medicine has run short. We are now left with no option but to go for alternatives that have the same characteristics as Actemra,” the official said, adding that, “but they are not allowed by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) to administer to Covid-19 patients”.
Replying to a question, the official said some countries had already started using alternatives and Pakistan could do the same.
Talking to Dawn, a pharmacist, on condition of anonymity, meanwhile, was of the view that Actemra was monoclonal antibodies and was used to lock the immune system.
Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses.
“During Covid-19, the immune system becomes hyperactive and starts killing human cells that have the coronavirus and as a result the patient gets affected more. However medicines, such as Actemra, lock the immune system and stop it from killing the cells. However this process can also be dangerous because a patient is prone to attacks from all diseases as the immune system stops working,” the pharmacist said, adding that Pakistan had less than two third of the population compared to the United States (US) but we have used 10 times more Actemra than America. He went on to say that the medicine had side effects and could be very dangerous. “There are a number of other monoclonal antibodies and they also lock the immune system,” he added.
The pharmacist said the injection was priced at Rs55,000 but was being sold for Rs400,000 in the black market.
“Unfortunately hospitals, especially private, have been suggesting administering the injection to patients,” he added.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has added Sinopharm and Sinovac to its list of approved vaccines, raising the number of its acceptable vaccines to six. Earlier the Kingdom accepted entry of people who had been inoculated with Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BionTech, Johnson and Johnson and Moderna.
According to a Dawn.com report, the Saudi health ministry announced that there is a possibility to accept the vaccination of those who have received two doses of Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines, provided that they have received a booster dose of one of the other approved vaccines in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has also eased restrictions on fully vaccinated residents, allowing them to directly travel to the Kingdom from countries facing a travel ban, including Pakistan.
The Pakistani embassy in Riyadh welcomed the decision to allow direct travel from Pakistan to those with valid residency permits and having received two doses of Covid-19 vaccine inside Saudi Arabia before their departure from the Kingdom.
The Saudi consulate in Islamabad said the government of Saudi Arabia had lifted travel ban on those residents (Iqamah holders) who had been completely vaccinated in the kingdom and then travelled to Pakistan and could not return to Saudi Arabia due to suspension of flights.
“Thereby, they can travel to Saudi Arabia directly with complete implementation of SOPs,” it said.
Meanwhile, PPP Parliamentary Leader in the Senate Senator Sherry Rehman has criticised the PTI government for increasing prices of life-saving medicines once again.
“Instead of providing relief in times of extreme inflation and high unemployment, the PTI government has hiked the prices of essential medicine by a whopping 150pc. This is the 10th increase in medicine prices since 2018,” she said.
“While other countries are making life-saving drugs free, the PTI government is busy playing politics during a national health crisis. Let’s not forget, last year Drap hiked the prices of 253 life-saving drugs by a massive 25pc-35pc. ... It is alarming that there is no price regulating mechanism for medicines under this PTI government,” she said.
Additional reporting by Mohammad Asghar
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2021