Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi cited the acute shortage of vital drug - Amphotericin-B - needed to treat Mucormycosis, dubbed Black Fungus, and underscored the need to "take immediate action" to remedy the situation.
Several thousand coronavirus patients in the country have contracted Mucormycosis, a deadly and aggressive fungal infection, compounding the country's troubles as it reels from the pandemic.
PM Modi, in a virtual address to health workers from Varanasi yesterday, warned against what he called the "new challenge of Black Fungus". He further described the virus as an unseen and shifting enemy.
The illness, the Congress leader pointed out, is not covered in Ayushman Bharat - scheme that provides free health insurance to India's poor and marginalised families - and most other health insurance products.
"I would request you [PM Modi] to kindly take immediate action on this matter to bring relief to the large number of patients being afflicted by Mucormycosis," Ms Gandhi said in the letter.
The government, Ms Gandhi said, has asked states to declare Mucormycosis an epidemic under the Epidemic Diseases Act. This means all confirmed or suspected cases of black fungus, a condition seen in recovering Covid patients, have to be reported to the Health Ministry.
Ms Gandhi said it would mean that there must be adequate production and assured supply of essential medicines to treat it, and cost-free patient care for those in need of treatment.
"In recent times a new challenge in the form of a fungal infection namely mucormycosis has emerged and is reported from many states among COVID-19 patients especially those on steroid therapy and deranged sugar control," Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said in a letter to states on Friday.
The Union Health Ministry on Friday said licence has been given to five more manufactures for production of Amphotericin-B and they will start producing 1,11,000 vials of the drug per month from July.
The five companies are: NATCO Pharmaceuticals, Hyderabad; Alembic Pharmaceuticals, Vadodara; Gufic Biosciences Ltd, Gujarat; Emcure Pharmaceuticals, Pune; and Lyka in Gujarat.
Efforts are being made to supplement the domestic availability of the anti-fungal drug through import, the Ministry said.
The disease, which can lead to blackening or discolouration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood, is linked to diabetes.
Maharashtra has reported 1,500 cases and 90 deaths from the infection.
Rajasthan and Telangana have already declared black fungus an epidemic. Tamil Nadu, with only nine reported cases so far, has also notified the disease under its Public Health Act.