How I survived Hepatitis C by travelling to India to buy generic Hepatitis C medication
I am writing this at Melbourne Airport waiting for the flight to KL and then on to Chennai.
This morning I got a few emails from folk who are following my diary on the Internet. Some questions about prices of the generic brands in India which I could not answer. I expect to have a clear understanding of the prices and procedures by Monday but, as I find stuff out, I will post whatever information I discover.
I really do hope that this blog is useful to folk. Having been through all the Hepatitis C turmoil over the last nine months, and the frustration of knowing that there is a good, effective drug that would cure me available but that it’s so expensive that I cannot afford it: well it is terribly annoying and frustrating. So I hope this story helps folk to get cured themselves.
And I have to say (again) thank God for India; for India being brave enough to stand up to Big Pharma and make this drug available to its own people and all the other people of the world.
Our own politicians are too scared of the USA and the big multinationals, even when it comes to saving the lives of 250,000 Australia citizens and saving the Australian health budget billions of dollars. Our politicians will spend heaps of time and money trying to save two convicted drug smugglers on death row in Indonesia ( and I am not saying that is a bad thing) and they will bully and threaten the Indonesian government about it to save two Australian lives. But when it comes to saving hundreds of thousands of Australian lives by standing up to the big pharmaceutical companies, not a peek from our Prime Minister, not a word: does he even care?
Good on you India for caring about your people and standing up to the bullies.
On the plane…. flying over Indonesia at 11,000 meters on Malaysian Airlines: a few hours before we land in KL and then on to Chennai Airport for a midnight arrival. Yes, I’m traveling Malaysian Airlines, which had just lost two of its planes killing all on board, but I am not at all worried about a plane crash. In fact, I chose Malaysian Airlines because, statistically, it is SO unlikely that anything could happen to another one of their flights (unless you happen to believe that bad things come in threes). I also chose Malaysian because I figured that lots of people would choose not to fly with them and there might be a bit of room on the flight and I was right! The plane is half empty and I get four empty seats to stretch out on, pure luxury! So as I drift off into that airplane half-sleep I find myself wondering/worrying what will happen when I wake up tomorrow and go out to find a doctor in Chennai ???
Is there going to be some kind of red tape nightmare getting the prescription?
What if I have to see a specialist and cannot get an appointment within the time that I have?
What if they do not accept the Australian test results and want to do all their own tests?
There are so many things that might stall things. I’m only in India for seven days. Maybe I should have given myself more time?
But, of course, there is the other possibility that everything will go smooth and the first doctor I see will write me a prescription and the first chemist I go to will have the Sofosbuvir in stock.
I will hand him the prescription, he will hand me the tablets and all will be well.
I got out of the plane at Chennai Airport at about 1 a.m. I was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness and modern layout of the airport. Even the air conditioning was working.
Walking down the long corridor from the plane to Immigration and Customs clearance I noticed all those little things that remind you that you are in India. The half-finished painting of the walls, the spilled milkshake laying in the center of the polished concrete walkway, where it will lay for hours yet as people walk around it, until the designated milkshake cleaner, from the appropriate caste comes to clean it up.
At the migration barrier, I go to the line marked out for foreigners. I was the only foreigner on board that flight of several hundred people, so I stand alone in front of the foreigner desk.
After standing there about ten minutes waiting for someone to come I start to wander around looking for someone in a uniform. I find a cluster of uniforms gathered around an office doorway chatting. I wave to them and they wave back and smile. A gentleman detaches himself from the group and comes over to me.
“Yes sir, how may I help you?” he wobbles his head and smiles a big smile. Teeth in India are so white!
I explain that I wish to enter India and need someone to stamp my passport and let me through. Another smile, he asks me to please wait and walks off. Soon another gentleman arrives and ushers me back to the foreigner desk that I had been standing at before.
I hand him my passport, he flicks through it looking for my visa, but of course, cannot find it. I explain that I have an on-line issued point of entry visa and hand him the email receipt. He is not familiar with these and heads off to find a superior who comes back, looks at the email, shows the first fellow which stamp to use, smiles at me, wobbles his head and then goes back to the conversation cluster.
Next, I must be photographed and fingerprinted by the new biometric technology. The first problem is that I am too tall for the camera; at a pinch under 6 foot 5 inches even twisted to its maximum elevation the camera will not photograph my entire face. We eventually solve this little problem by having me kneel in front of the camera. From the corner of my eye I see that the conversationalists are all watching this interesting diversion, big smiles all.
The next little problem is that my fingers are too large for the fingerprint scanner. My immigration officer tries to solve this by repeatedly wiping the glass of the scanner however this does not work. We eventually solve the problem by being satisfied with slightly imperfect scans of my fingerprints.
It is all very jolly and, once all is done, I am waved through a special pathway that bypasses all the queues of non-foreigners
In the baggage claim area, there is a money changer. I learn later that the rates there are the worst you will get anywhere. However, I need rupees so I change twenty dollars and get about half what I would get anywhere else. If you are doing this route, change a few dollars in Malaysia or Australia or anywhere else first. The exchange rates in Chennai itself are very good so you only need to have about $20 worth of rupees to get to your hotel.
Anyway I got politely ripped off at the airport money changer and then went over to wait for my baggage. However as I was waiting I felt the call of nature and, with some trepidation, went off to the public toilets. I had bad memories of public toilets from previous visits to India. The entrance to the toilet had a big sign saying “Passengers Only”. There was a reason for this and I was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness therein.
Once relieved I returned to the baggage carousel to await the arrival of my one, very heavy bag.
And I waited. Bags slid past me and people grabbed them and dragged them away. One very small Indian, in an expensive suit, tried to grab his very large bag as it slid past him. He grabbed the bag’s handle but was unsuccessful in his attempts to pull it off the carousel. Whilst he could not move the bag, the bag could move him and, as he refused to let go of the bag, he was half dragged by it toward the end of the carousel as he shuffled along tugging at it until one of the baggage wallahs came over and helped him lift it off.
The baggage wallah stood proudly beside the rescued bag smiling waiting for a tip but the little man ignored him completely and simply grabbed his bag and rolled it towards the Customs queue.
And so I waited, watching folk collect their luggage and trundle over to the Customs queue and then out into the night. Eventually, I found myself alone at the baggage carrousel watching one lone bag, which was not mine, go around and around as a rising feeling of panic rose in my chest.
It looked as though my luggage had been lost en route. I was on the verge of freaking out when I realised I was actually waiting at the wrong baggage point and, looking across the room saw my bag all alone going around and around on the other baggage conveyor belt.
A smiling baggage wallah was standing beside the other conveyor belt. He smiled as he saw me walking over and pointed to my solitary bag and wobbled his head to indicate that there was nothing to worry about and that he had been guarding the bag for me.
I thanked him gratefully and handed him a tip, I can’t recall if it was 100 rupees or 500 rupees… things were getting a bit blurry in my head after nearly 24 hours of flying. I hope it was 500 rupees.
Walking out of the airport building into the thick, musty, almost rancid perfume of Indian air, I realised once again that some things never change
I paid 480 rupees for a taxi voucher at the government taxi booth and walked into the crowd that milled around the separation barriers, waiting for the return of loved ones. A smiling man saw my voucher and pounced on me politely, leading me to his little Morris Major taxi without asking me where I was going. Once he had me and my bag safely in his cab he enquired as to my destination.
When I told him I was going to the Taz Karma Inn at T. Nagar a puzzled look spread over his face. I said it again more slowly but of course he did not understand my Australian accented English just as I could not understand his Tamil accented English.
Fortunately, I had written the hotel’s name and address on a piece of paper and showed him that. Unfortunately, he still did not know the hotel but did know where T. Nagar was and so we headed off into the night.
It was somewhere between two and three in the morning and still there were traffic jams, piles of rubble, half-finished eight-lane highways, people sleeping on the broken pavement. So familiar, so foreign. To find the Taz Karma my taxi driver did not use a map or a GPS, he just pulled over and asked people for directions. After a few queries, he soon had me at the Taz Karma where the concierge was awaiting my arrival. After the genuine welcome and the formal signing in ceremonies I was in my room. I turned the air conditioning to 18 and collapsed into a very comfortable bed.
Of course I woke a few hours later as my body clock thought it was 10 in the morning but it was only six so, as breakfast was not served until 7.30, I went for a walk around my new neighbourhood.
Early morning is the one time that Indian streets are quiet and relatively empty. The garbage collection trucks rumbling along to pick up the piles (big piles) of rubbish heaped at the end of every street; where the occasional dog foraged. I noticed that India’s rise up the affluence ladder was obvious in the rubbish heaps. There was clothing and toys and food that one would never have seen in the rubbish heaps ten years earlier. It is interesting that prosperity seems to equate to waste.
I noticed as I walked between the muddy puddles of the potholed streets that there were a few doctors and chemists on the block near my hotel but I must wait until about 10 before anything opens. I might get a shave from a barber before I go and see a doctor to get a script. It would be very convenient if I found a doctor five minutes from the hotel.