As the H1N1 or 'swine flu' virus gathers endemic proportions in India, the government has finally decided to allow retail sale of Tamiflu, but under heavy restrictions. A total of 480 approved outlets across the country will be allowed to sell the one preparation that combats the virus.
So far, Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) was available only at government dispensaries. Now the drug will be available at chemists that are permitted to sell 'Schedule X' drugs. These can only be purchased on prescription from a registered medical practitioner. The pharmacy has to keep a record of the prescription, the name of the prescribing doctor, and the person to whom it is sold.
The decision to open up sales of Tamiflu was taken yesterday, a day when six fresh deaths were reported across the country, taking the official toll to 190. Another 6,300 people have been infected.
This is in sharp contrast to other countries including Mexico, where the virus first broke out around April this year. Since then, few if any casualties from the infection have occurred internationally, thanks to prompt treatment and free availability of the anti-viral drug.
In India, however, patients are dying within 24 to 48 hours of getting infected with H1N1. ''We are losing patients who have good immunity,'' a senior doctor in Bangalore said.
The government itself fears that the number of those who get infected with the virus could increase tenfold, as the humidity of the monsoon followed by winter is ideal for breeding viruses. This factor perhaps prompted the government to loosen its hold on retail sales of Tamiflu.
Cabinet member Ghulam Nabi Azad's health ministry felt that opening the drug for retail sale would lead to hoarding and also random popping of the pill. This could give rise to drug resistance among healthy individuals, it feared.