Oxygen, Antivirals Sold in India’s Coronavirus ‘Black Market’

A man holds boxes of Remdesivir, an antiviral drug used to treat Covid-19 coroanavirus symptoms, purchased from government dispensary in Chennai on April 27, 2021. (Photo by Arun SANKAR / AFP) (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)
ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images

Delhi police have “arrested more than 90 people” in recent weeks for selling or attempting to sell medical supplies including oxygen and antiviral drugs to families of coronavirus patients at exorbitant prices, the Hindustan Times reported Thursday.

A “flourishing black market of medicines and medical devices” has emerged in Delhi, India’s national capital territory, since India’s coronavirus caseload began to surge in early April, according to the newspaper.

India’s hospitals have been pushed to the brink of collapse by a relentless stream of new daily infections of the Chinese coronavirus over the past few weeks. The South Asian nation, home to nearly 1.4 billion people, reported 412,431 new daily cases of the Chinese coronavirus and 3,980 deaths from the disease on May 5.

Delhi police officials told the Hindustan Times on May 6 they have “arrested more than 90 people” over the past three weeks for either selling medical supplies and drugs at exorbitant rates on the coronavirus black market or attempting to do so. The police added that they have “busted at least 75 cases” related to the price gouging.

“On Tuesday [May 5], we arrested a contractual nurse from a prominent hospital in south Delhi,” a Delhi police officer told the Hindustan Times. “She had stolen the remdesivir [antiviral] injection vial from the hospital, forged the records to show that she had given it to patients, and later passed it on to her contacts to sell it.”

“She and her gang were selling the medicine for ₹70,000 [$951] each,” the officer said, adding that the nurse and her associates successfully found buyers for the stolen remdesivir vials “even at that price.”

Remdesivir is “the most sought-after medicine” throughout Delhi on the coronavirus black market, according to the Hindustan Times, which found that “it is being sold at anywhere between Rs.25,000-50,000 [$340-$680] for a single vial while the original price is between Rs.899-3,490 [$12-$47] depending on the brand.”

Remdesivir is a broad-spectrum antiviral drug that India and several other countries are using to treat patients with severe cases of the Chinese coronavirus despite the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) issuing a conditional recommendation against its use in November 2020.

“There is currently no evidence that remdesivir improves survival and other outcomes in these patients,” the W.H.O. statement read.

India banned the export of remdesivir on April 11 after India’s surging Chinese coronavirus caseload caused a “spike in demand” for the drug.

“Some [Indian] state governments have in recent days raised concerns over hoarding and black marketing of Remdesivir, which in some instances is being sold at over 10 times the maximum retail price,” Reuters reported April 11.

“Pharmacists and stockists might be doing black marketing and that needs to be checked,” Rajesh Tope, health minister of western India’s Maharashtra state, told reporters at the time.

The vast majority of people arrested for connections to Delhi’s coronavirus black market are “connected to hospitals — a doctor, security guards, nurses, lab technicians — or are medical salespersons, chemists, and drivers who work for private ambulance and cab services,” the Hindustan Times reported on May 6.

In addition to remdesivir, black market dealers in Delhi are hoarding and selling medical oxygen, used to treat patients with severe symptoms of the Chinese coronavirus, amid a nationwide oxygen shortage due to the recent coronavirus surge.

“[S]ome people are trying to make profits quickly by selling small oxygen canisters,” a New Delhi police officer told the Hindustan Times on Thursday. New Delhi is India’s national capital city, located within the territory of Delhi.

“We arrested a medical supplier who was selling oxygen canisters for Rs.5,100 [$70] when the price of the canister as mentioned on the can was only Rs.400 [$5],” the officer said.

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