The Indonesian government on Thursday (July 15) began distributing free drugs and vitamins to self-isolating Covid-19 patients in high-risk areas as the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus continued to spread across the country, emptying the shelves of pharmacies.
In a broadcast via YouTube, President Joko Widodo said that, to begin with, 300,000 packages would be distributed to people living in the worst-affected islands of Java and Bali, with a similar number elsewhere.
Each package will contain seven days of therapeutic drugs and Covid-19 vitamins, and will be given to asymptomatic patients as well as those with mild to moderate symptoms, including fever and a dry cough. The drug for the latter group will require consultation with a doctor and a prescription.
Mr Widodo, better known as Jokowi, has ordered strict monitoring of the distribution of free healthcare packages, which will be led by Air Chief Military Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto.
“This program must not disrupt the availability of essential drugs for the treatment of Covid-19 in pharmacies and hospitals,” said the president.
The number of daily infections in Indonesia continued to skyrocket on Thursday with 56,757 reported cases, another record, as Southeast Asia’s largest economy overtook India in daily Covid cases -19. The total number of cases was 2,726,803, including 70,192 deaths.
Medical facilities are stretched and the demand for oxygen and medicine has also skyrocketed. As dozens of people isolate themselves at home and self-medicate, drug prices have skyrocketed in pharmacies and online. The health ministry has since decided to cap the prices of drugs such as favipiravir, remdesivir and ivermectin.
Indonesia’s Food and Medicines Agency has cleared ivermectin for emergency use against Covid-19, Reuters reported, although the World Health Organization, as well as European and US regulators did not have not recommended its use for Covid-19 patients.
Food vendor Dini Wahyuni, 51, said she spent a day checking the shelves of pharmacies in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta, for the antiviral drug, fluvir, for her brother, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 and isolates at home.
“My teenage son and I drove around town on a motorbike all day looking for antiviral pills and found nothing. “she told the Straits Times.
Ms Dini, who has just recovered from the illness, said she felt quite weak but had “no choice”.
She said she was very worried about her brother, who also suffers from high blood pressure and heart problems, and gave her the medicine intended for another sister, who was also infected with the coronavirus.
“I was afraid he couldn’t survive without the drugs,” she said.
Public enterprise minister Erick Thohir on Thursday urged Indonesians to remain patient, saying free medicines and vitamins would be delivered to homes.
He assured them that the drugs would remain affordable.
“We want people to recover from Covid-19 soon, and we don’t want people to be upset by the problem of drug shortages, which is why we are providing free drugs,” he said.