Remdesivir is being prescribed by a majority of the hospitals in India as a possible treatment for COVID-19. However, the black market for Remdesivir and Tocilizumab has made it nearly impossible to procure even a single vial. And with India literally gasping for breath, oxygen cylinders to have ended up being a later joiner of this black market rabbit hole.
What Are The Prices That The Black Market Offers?
Ashutosh Sinha, a resident of Lucknow, has been looking to purchase Remdesivir for his ailing mother for a week. “Every pharmacy tells me that they’re out of stock. One pharmacy told me that they can get it arranged from the black market but I’ll have to pay Rs. 40,000 for a single vial”, says Sinha.
Oxygen cylinders usually cost around Rs. 5,000 (including pre-filled pure medical oxygen) are now being black-marketed for a price of Rs. 30,000 per cylinder. “I purchased one cylinder for my brother for Rs. 35,000. I had to talk to multiple people about this. It was not easy”, says Rana Kohli, a resident of Allahabad.
The basic prices of Remdesivir (MRP) are highly affordable, but the black market causes a surge of almost 30 times. For example, COVIFOR (Remdesivir) has an original price of Rs. 3,490 but in the black market it can cost up to Rs. 90,000 for a single vial.
What Is The Reason For Black Market Smuggling?
Recently at the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Companies (OPEC) Rajiv Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Raichur, an ambulance driver smuggled several vials of Remdesivir for the black market. “We cannot blame one person or cite one reason for this black-marketing. It’s a system, a racquet, and everyone including the government, public and distributors are to be blamed”, explains Rajesh Tiwari, SI, Lakhimpur Kheri.
The government has failed to keep track and maintain a record of the Remdesivir, Tocilizumab, and oxygen cylinders. Also, overstocking is being done by the public. People with no symptoms or a simple cough are storing multiple Remdesivir vials and oxygen cylinders just to be on the safer side. “Distributors maintain books of only those lots, which are supplied to the company.
The rest of the batches are black-marketed to pharmacies and middlemen”, adds Rajesh. Also, certain healthcare workers in private hospitals of suburban areas force the patients to buy these drugs or cylinders from a broker which they advise.
What’s The Concern Regarding The Black Market?
Everything about selling drugs in black is illegal. Not only this, with deep dug black market functioning, the authorized pharmacies and sellers are able to get a limited or shortened supply of oxygen and Remdesivir. Hence, people in need aren’t able to purchase vials and cylinders costing around Rs. one lakh (approx).
What Should You Do?
“First of all, only purchase these drugs and cylinders if you need them and not for the purpose of stocking or reselling. For those really in need, you can contact the company helpline and ask them for verified sellers. You can also contact a super stocker, which usually has a large authorized supply of drugs”, says Rajesh.
Also, you can buy oxygen cylinders from government-authorized suppliers or online. There are certain NGOs like the Unity and Dignity Foundation, which are handing out free-of-cost oxygen cylinders. You can contact these NGOs for the drugs or oxygen cylinders as well.