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India faces antifungal drug shortage as Black Fungus cases add to COVID-19 woes

"One patient needs 60 to 100 injections (of Amphotericin B) depending on the severity of illness. With the current caseload, we need more than 1,50,000 injections," Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said.

May 21, 2021 / 06:40 PM IST
Mucormycosis (known as black fungus), a rare life-threatening infection that’s being reported in some COVID-19 patients. (Image: News18 Creative)

Mucormycosis (known as black fungus), a rare life-threatening infection that’s being reported in some COVID-19 patients. (Image: News18 Creative)


India said on May 21 that it is working to alleviate a shortage of a medicine used to treat a rare fungal disease hitting COVID-19 patients as the healthcare system is reeling under a massive wave of coronavirus infections.

Cases of Mucormycosis, or Black Fungus, a potentially serious complication that causes blurred or double vision, chest pain, and breathing difficulties, have surged in India, mostly among COVID-19 patients.

As per media reports, at least 7,250 such cases have been found across the country as of May 19.

Pharma firms scramble to boost production of antifungal jab Amphotericin B as Black Fungus cases rise

“In this battle of ours, another new challenge of black fungus has also emerged these days,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on May 21.

India has the second-highest tally of COVID-19 cases in the world and has been reporting around 2,50,000 infections and 4,000 deaths daily.

With Mucormycosis cases rising, Union Health Ministry said it was looking to rope in more companies to produce the antifungal drug Amphotericin B used to treat it and also increase imports.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

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There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

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Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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That would lead to a nearly 250 percent increase in supply to around 570,000 vials in June, the Health Ministry said on May 21.

Some states such as Maharashtra have said that they are running low on amphotericin B as Black Fungus cases spiked and had asked federal authorities to provide more doses.

"One patient needs 60 to 100 injections (of Amphotericin B) depending on the severity of illness. With the current caseload, we need more than 1,50,000 injections," Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said.

The western state has reported 1,500 cases of Mucormycosis so far, and 850 patients are undergoing treatment.

RURAL TESTING

Overall, India's COVID-19 infection tally stands at 26.03 million, with a death toll of 291,331, Health Ministry data showed on May 21.

The country conducted roughly two million tests on May 20, but experts have said infections and deaths could be between five to 10 times higher than official estimates as the virus spreads to the vast hinterland.

India aims to double its testing capacity to 4.5 million per day by the end of June, of which 60 percent would be through rapid antigen tests, according to the government.

As part of the effort, the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) this week approved home testing for COVID-19, using rapid antigen tests.

These tests, less accurate than the RT-PCR method, are advised only for symptomatic cases and immediate contacts of laboratory-confirmed positive cases, according to the Indian Council of  Medical Research (ICMR).

"In rural areas or in field-level areas, the rapid antigen test is the backbone of testing and that should be encouraged," Balram Bhargava, head of ICMR, told reporters.
Reuters
first published: May 21, 2021 06:38 pm

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