P hasn’t been able to walk properly and has suffered from tremors for over 12 years. He is shown getting a shot, and seconds later, he’s seen doing push-ups. Mumbai-based Nanavati Hospital’s video on its antidote to Parkinson’s Disease, uploaded earlier this month, seems too good to be true. In fact, neurologists all over the country say it’s barely true.

“The drug’s effect lasts only for one hour. The video doesn’t mention that,” says Dr Charulata Sankhla, President, Movement Disorders Society of India, Mumbai.

Having said that, the video has achieved “viral” status. Or so doctors say.

Parkinson’s Disease is a disorder of the central nervous system that causes tremors and affects movement. Its symptoms include stiffness, difficulty in speaking, poor balance, amnesia, anxiety, and loss of smell. It usually affects patients aged 60 or older, but now, earlier onset is being seen in patients under 40.

And India, most bafflingly, is treating it as a non-issue. There’s little to no access to the drug shown in the video—Apomorphine—that can help contain symptoms of Parkinson’s if taken regularly. In its injectable form, the drug is rapidly absorbed by the body, providing relief to patients within six to nine minutes. In the US and Europe, the drug has been in use for more than 20 years, and yet, until recently, Indian Parkinson’s patients couldn’t get it anywhere.

Underused

Apomorphine received regulatory approval in the UK in 1993 but despite its efficacy has been underused, according to K Ray Chaudhuri, a leading global Parkinson's researcher from King's College, London

But is Parkison’s really that prevalent in India? Enough to warrant access to the only effective drug.

According to the medical journal The Lancet, in 2016, 6.1 million had the disease worldwide as opposed to 5,75,946 in India. However, doctors suspect the numbers are much higher—to the tune of 300-400 for every 100,000 citizens, and they expect this will double by 2030.

The mainstay of Parkinson’s treatment in India is orally-administered medicine, namely Levodopa and Carbidopa, which help control the tremors and ease muscle movement. There are also other tablets such as Pramipexole, Ropinirole, Amantadine, Trihexyphenidyl, Safinamide, and Rotigotine which take 30-60 minutes to kick in.

The tablets are cheaper. But don’t come anywhere near the effectiveness of Apomorphine, which takes a patient from an “off” to an “on” state in minutes, making her feel alive.

Apomorphine is a necessity for Parkinson’s patients. According to Dehradun-based Rusan Pharmaceutical Ltd—an indigenous manufacturer of the drug—it is a non-controlled (no narcotic permission required), non-narcotic, non-addictive substance.

AUTHOR

Suraksha P

Suraksha writes on Healthcare and Pharma. She has been a journalist for five years, reporting for The New Indian Express in Bengaluru and Chennai, and The Times of India, Delhi. In her previous stints she has written on health, civic issues and education. She investigated cover up of corruption in the state health department’s think tank, narrated harrowing tales of women who underwent unwarranted hysterectomies, and wrote about how loss of biometrics came in the way of Leprosy patients getting an Aadhaar card and thereby pension. She can be reached at suraksha at the-ken dot com.

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