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Hundreds of people living with HIV/AIDS in Manipur are hit by an acute drug shortage after pharmaceutical companies stopped medicine supplies following a huge extortion demand by separatists.

‘It is very unfortunate that militants were demanding money and threatening pharmaceutical companies resulting in the firms stopping supplies of medicines. We are negotiating with the companies to resume supplies very soon and assured them of full protection and security,’ Manipur Health Minister Parijat Singh told IANS.

Stocks of life saving drugs in government hospitals and chemists have dried up after leading pharmaceutical firms like Glaxo, Cipla and Ranbaxy stopped supplying drugs to Manipur after a separatist group demanded Rs.1 million in extortion money from the pharmaceutical association.

‘It has been more than 10 days since the companies stopped supplying medicines to Manipur. Stocks of almost all life saving drugs have dried up,’ said S. Singh, a chemist in Imphal.

The worst sufferers are the patients.

‘Hundreds of people living with HIV/AIDS would simply die with supplies of drugs like Efabirenz, an Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) drug, and other second line drugs, not available in the hospitals and pharmacies,’ said Deepak Singh, president of the Manipur Network of Positive People

The chief minister has already asked authorised dealers to restore supply, but sources said the dealers were unwilling to resume business fearing a backlash from the militant group.

“If the companies are afraid to bring medicines to Manipur through their authorised dealers here, we will ask them to make these available in Guwahati and we will collect the supplies from there with police escort,” a source said.

The police are willing to run the errand.

If the companies agree to the idea, fetching the supplies from Guwahati will not be a problem, an officer said.

“Three trips in a month will be enough to meet the state’s requirement for at least three months. We are ready to transport the medicine,” he added.

AIDS workers have already warned of a disaster if supplies are not immediately restored.

“A majority of the HIV positive people procure anti-retroviral drugs from the market. Only about 1,000 get it from the ART centres. If the supply is not restored, it could lead to serious problems,” said an AIDS worker.

Heart patients and diabetics, who survive on a daily dose of medication, are trying to get their own supplies either from Guwahati or Dimapur.

The crisis has also led to a price hike.

Reports said prices of most drugs have gone up by Rs 2 to Rs 3 for a strip or bottle.

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