Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has provided 600,000 packages of free medicine for people infected with Covid-19 in self-isolation on Thursday, kicking off a government-led drive that it hoped would curb wild speculation that drives up prices of critical supplies for the disease treatment.
The medicine package includes vitamins for infected patients with mild symptoms and prescriptions drugs for others with moderate symptoms.
Indonesia saw close to 57,000 new cases on Thursday, increasing active cases to more than 480,000. Hospitals in pandemic epicenters like Jakarta and Bandung have been overwhelmed with patients.
That forced most patients to treat themselves at home and source the vitamins, medicine, and oxygen on their own. And more often than not, they find themself having to deal with businesses making a big buck out of selling medicine and oxygen cylinders for staggering profits.
The government has pledged to crack down on this problem, starting with distributing free drug packages.
"These packages are not for sale," Jokowi said on Thursday.
He has enlisted the Indonesian Military (TNI) to help local governments distribute the medicine packages.
"I want this program to be carried out under strict supervision, so it can really reduce the risk due to Covid-19 and treat residents suffering from Covid-19," Jokowi said.
Earlier, the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, whom Jokowi had tasked to handle the recent Covid-19 spike in Java and Bali, promised swift action to ensure medical supplies availability.
“We did face issues with drug [availability]. We will now start to control the drugs,” Luhut said at the Investor Daily Summit on Tuesday.
“More oxygen has started to arrive [from abroad]. We have received 1,500 oxygen generators from China with 5 and 10-liter capacities and several thousand from Singapore. We will receive maybe close to 10,000 generators this month. We will also import - we have started with 40,000 oxygen generators. We’ll use them for mild cases," he said.
This announcement came after the government faced weeks of criticism regarding issues within the drug and oxygen markets.
On July 3, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin, had decreed the highest retail price (HET) for 11 commonly-used drugs during the pandemic, after price surges were observed in online marketplaces. The law concerning HET applies to every pharmacy, hospital, clinic, and health facility.
E-commerce platforms such as Tokopedia, Shopee, and Bukalapak also banned thousands of sellers from setting drug prices above HET. But that didn’t stop illegal practices.
Last Monday, a local seller at Pramuka Market, East Jakarta, was arrested for selling Ivermectin, a Covid-19 treatment drug for Rp 475,000 [$32.7], six times the highest retail price (HET) set by the government - which is Rp 75,000.
“The drug [Ivermectin] should have been Rp 7,500 per tablet or Rp 75,000 per box of 10 tablets, but due to the scarcity of this drug from panic buying, the price was sold at Rp 475,000 per box, even around Rp 700,000 online,” said Jakarta Police spokesman Chief Commissioner Yusri Yunus, following the shop bust in Pramuka Market.
The seller was charged with 2009 Law about Health, 2018 Law about Health Quarantine, and the Criminal Code.
On the same day of the shop bust, Luhut warned drug manufacturers and stores that a special unit force dedicated to monitoring drug and oxygen supplies would start raiding warehouses if there was any suspicion of hoarding or price spikes within the next three days.
But Luhut’s statement was later criticized by Susi Pudjiastuti, the former minister of maritime affairs and fisheries, who questioned why he announced plans to raid, as hoarders would relocate to new warehouses. Luhut then faced public backlash — although the Jakarta Police did arrest three groups in Jakarta hoarding medicine and oxygen supplies the same week.
Aside from drug prices soaring, the Business Competition Supervisory Commission (KPPU) found that the price of portable oxygen and oxygen cylinders in Greater Jakarta jumped between 16 to 900 percent in mid-June.
Meanwhile, 63 patients died after a brief oxygen shortage at the Dr. Sardjito General Hospital in Yogyakarta earlier this month.
Health Minister Budi told CNBC a week before the deadly incident that Indonesia’s oxygen issue isn’t a lack of supply but distribution. Whilst hospitals are concentrated in central Java. Most oxygen factories are not.
Following the tragedy, the Ministry of Industry mobilized oxygen supply to Jawa from Morowali, Sulawesi, and Batam, Sumatra, and declared oxygen a strategic commodity during the pandemic. This means that for the time being, all domestic oxygen production will be allocated for medical use.
In compliance with the Ministry, the Secretary-General of the Association Producers of Aromatics, Olefins, and Plastic (Inaplas) Fajar Budiyono said local producers were ready to distribute 1,300 tons of oxygen per day and assured there would be no shortage of oxygen in the country.
According to the Minister of Health Budi, hospitals needed 400 tons of oxygen per day before the pandemic. With the pandemic, the demand has increased fivefold to 2,000 tons per day.
To anticipate how much oxygen the country needs, every hospital must fill in the data into an application prepared by the Ministry of Health, monitored every three hours.
"We ask every hospital to fill in every three hours to describe how much oxygen they need," he said.
However, only 1,000 hospitals have complied in reporting their oxygen needs, according to Budi. There are around 2,800 hospitals across the country.
“Some hospitals have suddenly complained that they were running out of oxygen. I asked why they did not fill in their data. If everyone complies in [reporting the data], we can verify and help,” he said.