Healthcare amidst pandemic: Cashing in on misery

The Covid pandemic has led to an obscene race for profiteering. People are being made to pay Rs 1 lakh or more per day in pvt hospitals. Black marketing of medicines & medical equipment is rampant

Representational image
Representational image

Ram Shiromani Shukla

There is no medicine to treat, cure or to prevent Covid (Coronavirus induced disease). The infection is caused by a virus and only the anti-Covid vaccine can provide some protection. In critical cases patients may require oxygen, ventilator support, steroids or blood thinners.

But the pandemic has led to an obscene race for profiteering. The government has fixed rates for RT-PCR tests, vaccines, medicines like Remdesivir and even for hospitalisation costs in private hospitals. Uttar Pradesh government, for example, has fixed Rs 11,200 per day for an oxygen bed, Rs 17000 per day for an ICU bed with a ventilator (including the cost of PPE kits) in ‘A grade’ private hospitals.

On what basis were the rates fixed is, well, unclear. But ask anyone who has spent a few days in a private hospital and they will tell you that they had to cough up around one lakh of rupees or more per day. On top of that they were required to arrange for oxygen and injections like Remdesivir by paying ‘black market rates’.

Shivendra Yadav, who admitted his elder brother in a private hospital told NHS in Lucknow, “Initially I took loan from relatives but as the demand increased, I sold my land. But daily the hospital started asking for more money, sometimes Rs 50,000 and sometimes Rs 1 lakh. I finally got my brother discharged from the hospital and am treating him at home.”

N N Srivastava’s daughter and son in-law were admitted to another hospital in Lucknow. He says he paid up Rs seven lakh and shelled out in addition Rs 66,000 for Remdesivir injection. Rajat Jain, who admitted his wife in a Lucknow hospital, was asked to deposit Rs 2.5 lakh on the first day and at the time of discharge, asked to shell out one and a half lakh Rupees more. When he insisted on a bill, receipt and break-up of expenses, he was assaulted. He has lodged a police complaint.

If Uttar Pradesh government failed to enforce its own rates in the state capital, the plight of people in other parts of the state can well be imagined.

Private ambulances too have been fleecing people. In Noida, a family was forced to shell out Rs 42,000 for transporting them to a hospital 25 kilometres away. Following a police complaint, Rs 40,000 were returned. Another ambulance driver charged a family Rs 8,500 for covering the two-kilometre distance between Apollo and Holy Family Hospital. Similar reports have poured in from other parts of UP and Madhya Pradesh as well.

Oxygen cylinders were also sold at a premium and since the government failed to stop hoarding, they have become scarce. Many people have been complaining that even when they managed to catch hold of cylinders, regulators disappeared from the market and were only available in the black market.

In normal times the regulators cost under one thousand Rupees and were available in pharmacies selling surgical equipment. But the last few weeks, the regulators have been sold at even Rs 25 thousand a piece. Oxygen concentrators which were earlier sold at Rs 50,000 or so were being sold in April for two and a half times the price at Rs 1.25 lakh.

Different pharma companies have priced Remdesivir differently, the rate varying from Rs 800 to Rs 3,400. But anecdotal evidence and media reports suggest they were being sold at rates ranging from Rs 10 to Rs 25 thousand a vial.

Hisar Police in Haryana arrested the brother of the Wholesale Chemists’ Association for selling Remdesivir at Rs 40 thousand. The arrest followed a tip-off and a sting operation. Ironically this is happening despite experts saying that Remdesivir is not needed to treat Covid patients.

While the Government of Yogi Adityanath has been busy providing oximeters for cow sheds and thermal scanners for cows, it seems both unable and unwilling to stop profiteering from the pandemic.

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