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Ventolin Inhaler used by asthmatics, is said to be in short supply.

There is a shortage of Asthma drugs at pharmacies in the country. Respiratory solutions such as Ventolin, Atrovent and others have been out of stock at drugstores for weeks, in some instances months, as owners cannot source it from the distributors.

“A lot of people asking for it,” one pharmacist in East Trinidad said yesterday.

When contacted, one of the distributors, Smith Robertson & Company Limited, did not have solutions. They said the supplier was out of stock and could not say when they would get more.

Guardian Media reached out to several pharmacies both in Trinidad and Tobago who also confirmed similar situations. Asked if they had either Ventolin or Atrovent Respiratory Solutions, some had only one in stock while others had none.

“The Atrovent has been out of stock for a little while, we have been ordering and not getting and the Ventolin, that was out for a good bit of time, but we recently get that one back,” one South pharmacist who did not want to be named said.

A pharmacy in Diego Martin said the shortage started right after the latest lockdown two months ago. That pharmacy did not have any of the solutions. One in St James did not have Atrovent and in East Trinidad and Tobago, both solutions have been out of stock for weeks.

The issue was raised by Member of Parliament for Cumuto/Manzanilla Dr Rai Ragbir last week in a post on his social media page. He called on the Minister of Health to fix the problem, as the shortage of Ventolin, Pulmicort Ipravent, Asthalin and Artovent Respiratory Solutions were leaving patients vulnerable.

In the post, Ragbir said the shortage was “jeopardising the health, safety and well-being of the lives of children and the elderly.”

Contacted yesterday, Pharmacy Board president Andrew Rahaman said none of his members had informed him about the shortage, but he said he himself experienced it last month when he tried to purchase such mediation.

“I think I recall trying to get some, some time ago and I couldn’t get some,” he said.

Rahaman said he believes one of the reasons for the shortage could be because international manufacturers were keeping the drugs for domestic use to treat COVID-19 patients, as cases increase and different variants emerge.

“If that is what they are using to assist the people in ICU and HCU, countries will start keeping it,” he said.

One medical source said while there is not an approved treatment designed specifically for COVID-19, there is supportive care which uses various types of drugs.

A source in one of this country’s COVID-19 facilities, who did not want to be identified, said the respiratory solutions used in nebulizers are used to relieve chest tightness. The source said part of the treatment of airway diseases such as asthma, would also include the use of corticosteroids as an anti-inflammatory, which is already part of the treatment regime for COVID-19 to help improve prognosis.

People with comorbidities such as asthma are more at risk of being critically affected by the virus.

In April, the University of Oxford research team found that two puffs of asthma medication budesonide (Pulmicort, one of the solutions listed above) given to patients within the first seven days of symptoms, twice a day, could benefit many over-50s with early symptoms.

A Central pharmacist believes some citizens saw information like this, panicked and began purchasing the respiratory solutions.

“People went in a panic and buy them out… a wild goose chase,” he said.

The pharmacist advised that this should not be used without guidelines or supervision from a healthcare practitioner.

When Guardian Media reached out to Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh yesterday, his response was that the matter was a private one. He referred us to the Pharmacy Board president.

North Central Regional Health Authority (NCRHA) CEO Davlin Thomas meanwhile said there was no shortage in the public sector.

“We have in stock,” Thomas said.

An email was sent to Northwest Regional Health Authority CEO Salisha Baksh but there was no response up to press time and calls to South-West Regional Health Authority CEO Brian Amour went unanswered.

Someone who works closely with the regional health authorities but did not want to be identified also said there is no public shortage.

However, some asthmatic patients across the country, who utilise the public health care system, disagreed there was no shortage.

One patient who contacted Guardian Media said, “That (there is no drug shortage in the public health sector) is a lie.”

She said she has been unable to get Symbicort at the San Fernando General Hospital for months and the substitutes are not working. She said she had to travel to Princes Town to buy a 700-dollar bottle recently.

Another patient from Central said, “The Minister is out of touch and should visit pharmacies.”

She said she has been searching for medication to treat her asthma for months without success.