Covid-19 Black Market

India May 12, 2021

Despite India’s status of ‘pharmacy of the world,’ it has been facing some of the worst shortages in essential medical supplies and equipment in the world. Under the crushing weight of the deadly second wave of COVID-19, the Indian healthcare system has been crumbling. Desperate to save the lives of their loved ones, people are forced to gather their own medical supplies often by paying around ten times the actual price, often through illegal sources.

Faced with the limited availability of medical facilities, government and private hospitals have been advising patients and their relatives to find medicines on their own. What sources does a common man have to acquire such crucial drugs but visit medical stores and call upon one's acquaintances?  This is where the black market comes into picture.

Where it begins

Irrespective of the brands, all doses of Remdesivir come from one of the seven pharmaceutical giants in India involved in the manufacture of the drug. Once produced, the companies send the medicine to the distributors who then pass it on to the licensed pharmacies. Distributors give a certain amount of the shipment to the pharmacies which are logged into their records, however they also stockpile a part of it. When someone in need of Remdesivir approaches a distributor, he would direct them to one of his people who may have hoarded it. Since the person goes to a third party instead of a licensed pharmacist, this deal is a blackmarket dealing.

Black markets

Black markets have grown exponentially since the beginning of the pandemic. Hospital beds are ‘blocked’ and sold at a much higher cost to the ones in need, as are life-saving medicines and oxygen. A single vial is sold for ₹30,000 - ₹40,000, which is ten times the regulated market price. Generally, six doses are given to a critical patient, which would amount to over ₹ 2 lakhs only for the dosage, exempting other charges.

What can be done?

Along with the actions taken by the state, each citizen can take certain precautionary measures to avoid falling prey to blackmarketers while ensuring they get the help that they need.

One of the safer options is to approach a doctor guide towards authentic resources. However, there are also reliable websites that help in the process. Whenever dealing with a supplier, one must ensure that they are purchasing real medications as fake Remdesivir is now in circulation in the black markets. This can be done by reading the packaging label. The packaging label of a fake would contain errors in the details and spellings.

Awareness = Safety

According to Lekha D. Bhat, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Central University, Tamil Nadu, lack of awareness has led to the burgeoning of blackmarkets. It’s natural to worry. However, we must not panic and hoard essential medicines and equipment because we may unknowingly be contributing to the facilitation of the blackmarket. The way out is understanding the virus, medications and the disease itself. Educating ourselves would equip us with the tools to safeguard ourselves not only from the virus, but also from crooks.

This article has been written by Ruchira Sarma for The Paradigm.

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