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India’s COVID-19 shortages boost drug and oxygen black market

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As Poonam Sinha fought for her life, her distraught son found himself pushing black traders away for coronavirus drugs after the Indian hospital treating her ran out of supplies.

Drug and oxygen shortages as India battles a fierce new wave of COVID-19 signify boom times for profit seekers, though some young volunteers are doing their best to help people on Twitter and Instagram.

In the eastern town of Patna, Pranay Punj ran from drugstore to drugstore in a frantic search for the antiviral drug remdesivir for her critically ill mother.

He eventually located a pharmacist who said the drug could only be found on the black market and offered to find it for 100,000 rupees ($ 1,340), more than 30 times its usual price and three times the average monthly salary. ‘an Indian. white collar worker.

Punj instead received the drug from a distant relative whose wife had just died from the virus.

But the nightmare was just beginning.

In the middle of the night, he received a call informing him that the hospital had now depleted its oxygen supply, making his mother’s condition even more precarious.

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“Several hours later, we managed to get a bed at (a) very high price in a private hospital and we transferred her there,” he said.

Oxygen supplies

Similar heartbreaking scenes are unfolding across the country, with desperate people taking to social media to beg for beds, oxygen or medicine.

Despite India’s status as “the world’s pharmacy”, the largest producer of generic drugs has not been able to meet the demand for antiviral drugs such as remdesivir and favipiravir.

In the northern town of Lucknow, Ahmed Abbas was billed 45,000 rupees for a 46-liter oxygen cylinder, nine times its normal price.

“They asked me to pay in advance and collect it the next day,” said the 34-year-old.

Patients breathe using oxygen masks in a banquet hall temporarily converted to a COVId-19 room in New Delhi on Tuesday. | UKTN-JIJI

The crisis added to criticism from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, previously criticized for allowing huge religious gatherings and addressing crowded political rallies himself.

Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal criticized last weekend “doctors giving patients unnecessary oxygen.

“Patients should only be given the amount of oxygen they need,” Goyal told reporters.

New Delhi is now planning to import 50,000 tonnes of oxygen and has set up a special train service called “Oxygen Express” to transport the cylinders to hard-hit states.

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Modi said in a speech to the nation on Tuesday night that “every effort is being made” to increase supplies.

“One solution to this crisis was to build up a stockpile of antiviral drugs when cases were low, but that did not happen,” said Raman Gaikwad, infectious disease specialist at Sahyadri Hospital in the western city of Pune. .

Instead, the makers of remdesivir told UK Time News this week that government officials ordered them to cease production in January due to a drop in infections.

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Real-time despair

As demands for beds and supplies peak on social media platforms, a network of activists and influencers has sprung into action to help those in difficulty.

Climate activist Disha Ravi and YouTuber Kusha Kapila are among dozens of young Indians who have researched, compiled and shared information detailing real-time availability of hospital beds, local helplines, pharmacy numbers and even food delivery services.

Content creator Srishti Dixit, 28, said she receives a new request for help every 30 seconds, creating a huge backlog.

Unpaid, she works late into the night, editing and checking the details of where to get what and amplifying requests for help.

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But the lists she shares with her 684,000 Instagram followers become obsolete almost immediately as the beds fill up and drugstores sell out.

Police are urging traders to close before a nighttime curfew begins following the state government's directive to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Amritsar, India on Tuesday.  |  AFP-JIJI
Police are urging traders to close before a nighttime curfew begins following the state government’s directive to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Amritsar, India on Tuesday. | UKTN-JIJI

“I don’t always succeed, I’m sure there are gaps… but I hope it helps people at least on an individual level,” she said.

With cases increasing at a record rate, the Indian government is leaving its health workers and anxious citizens to pick up the pieces.

“My friend is desperate. … We have tried all the government hotlines, but none of them answer (and) most oxygen providers have turned off their phones, ”said Zain Zaidi, sales manager for a hotel in Paris. Lucknow.

“I just managed to find a supplier, but he charges 20,000 rupees. I have to buy it at all costs, ”the 34-year-old said in a panicked voice, interrupting the call.

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