This article is written by Sanya Solanki, a student of ILS, Pune.
The pandemic has had some catastrophic effects on the working of many sectors of the society. But not all sectors were negatively affected. With its onset, it has only provided a booming ground for the illicit economy of medicine. The country has seen a surge in the illegal trade of pharmaceutical drugs for a period of two years now.
One of the drugs that has been making headlines recently was the antiviral medicine, developed by Gilead Sciences called Remdesivir. Remdesivir is one of the government-approved, prescription-based drugs. The substantial rise in cases, the lack of supply, and the failure of a proper health care system has only added fuel to the rampant practices of illegal trade of Remdesivir.
A single vial is being sold for almost ten times its retail price. But doctors recommend at least six vials administered to a critical patient for the medication to work. This means that the drug touts sell these prescription-based drugs for inflated prices and profit off people’s desperation.
This is not the first time unfair trade practices of pharmaceutical drugs have come to light. Last year, an injection known as tocilizumab that was administered only to patients with deteriorating oxygen levels was sold for three times its listed price.
Medicines were not the only things subjected to black marketing. In 2020 we also saw a rise in hoarding and illicit trading of essential commodities such as the infamous N95 masks.
Ineffective yet wanted
A matter of contention here is the effectiveness of the medicines. There is no evidence that the above-mentioned medicines have any effect on the progression of the disease. Even the N95 masks failed to prove their effectiveness.
According to the World Health Organization, Remdesivir should only be injected in severe cases. A home isolated patient does not require this medication. Regardless, clinicians and doctors continue to prescribe remdesivir and it is still widely used in the country.
The failure of the central drug authorities to update their guidelines and the sheer lack of awareness among people were a few important factors that led to the spur of demand for these drugs.
It was also disconcerting to watch how strong the supply chains run. With the help of the internet and the right connections, it is easy to obtain medications as and when needed. Moreover, several distributors give a certain portion of the shipment to pharmacies because they need those records on their books, but the rest of the stock is given to people who are a part of the inner circle. Strong connections and lack of any punitive measures have only encouraged the suppliers.
The repercussions the market brings along
These drug suppliers have perfectly exploited the gap of demand and supply by selling drugs at exorbitant prices. They’ve easily profited off misinformed and distressed people who have turned to the market as they see it as their only gleam of hope. Hence, it is fair to infer that these activities are not only legally wrong but also morally reprehensible.
Apart from being ethically iniquitous, the illegal trade of pharmaceutical drugs also has grave health consequences. There is no way to test the genuineness of the medicines. People could procure counterfeit drugs that could impose severe risks to public health.
The responsibility of society
Before everything slips out of hands the responsible authorities need to take urgent and sustained measures to curb this menace. They need to step up and narrow this gap of demand and supply, ensure adequate health care and make sure everyone receives the proper treatment and medicines on time and keep updating guidelines regarding the utility of medicines.
But it is not just the responsibility of the authorities. We, as responsible citizens must educate ourselves about the drugs we’re obtaining and ensure that we’re paying a fair price for them. People should be aware of the consequences of getting involved with the activities in the black market and try to be away from it as much as possible.
It is appalling to watch grief-struck, misinformed people being exploited in the name of treatment. In this grim situation where panic and misery clouds the country, it is important to keep our composure and battle the virus and everything it brings along.
Curated by Athita Albert of Kristu Jayanti College of Law, Bangalore.