The Indonesian government on Thursday (July 15) began distributing free medicine and vitamins to self-isolating Covid-19 patients in high-risk areas as the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus continued to rip through the country, emptying pharmacy shelves.
In a broadcast via YouTube, President Joko Widodo said that, for a start, 300,000 packages would be distributed to those living in the worst-hit islands of Java and Bali, with another similar number elsewhere.
Each package will have seven days worth of therapeutic Covid-19 drugs and vitamins, and will be given to asymptomatic patients as well as those with mild to moderate symptoms including fever and dry cough. The medication for the latter group will require consultation with a doctor and a prescription.
Mr Widodo, better known as Jokowi, has ordered strict supervision for the distribution of the free care packages, which will be led by military chief Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto.
"This programme must not disrupt the availability of essential drugs for Covid-19 treatment in pharmacies and hospitals," the president said.
The number of daily infections in Indonesia continued to soar on Thursday with 56,757 cases reported, another record high, as South-east Asia's largest economy surpassed India in the number of daily Covid-19 cases. Total cases stood at 2,726,803, including 70,192 deaths.
Medical facilities are stretched thin, and demand for oxygen and medication has also soared. As scores of people are isolating themselves at home and self-medicating, prices of drugs have shot up in pharmacies and online. The health ministry has since moved to cap the prices of drugs such as favipiravir, remdesivir and ivermectin.
Indonesia's food and drug agency has authorised ivermectin for emergency use against Covid-19, Reuters reported, although the World Health Organisation, as well as European and the US regulators did not recommend its use for Covid-19 patients.
Food vendor Dini Wahyuni, 51, said she had spent a day checking out pharmacy shelves in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta, for the antiviral drug, fluvir, for her brother, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 and is isolating at home.
"My teenage son and I rode our motorcycle around town for the entire day to look for antiviral pills, and found nothing. I felt so hopeless. From morning till dark, I visited all the chemists in my town to ask, but no luck," she told The Straits Times.
Ms Dini, who just recovered from the disease, said she was feeling quite weak but had "no choice".
She said she was very worried about her brother, who also suffers from hypertension and heart problems, and had given him the medicine meant for another sister, who was also infected with the coronavirus.
"I was scared that he couldn't survive without the medicine," she said.
Mr Erick Thohir, minister of state-owned enterprises, on Thursday urged Indonesians to remain patient, saying that the free medication and vitamins would be delivered to their homes.
He assured them that the drugs would remain affordable.
"We want the people to get well soon from Covid-19, and we don't want people to be distressed by the issue of drug shortages, which is why we are providing free medicine," he said.