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Indians turn to black market as health system buckles under outbreak

Mumbai: India’s COVID-19 death toll has exceeded 200,000 after a record number of 3293 fatalities were reported on Wednesday, as patients across India continue to pay extortionate black market prices for oxygen and essential medicines.

The second wave of COVID-19, believed to be driven by more contagious variants, has wreaked devastation on India and the current daily death tolls are thought to be up to 20 times higher than recorded figures.

A COVID-19 patient sits inside a car and breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship, in Delhi, India.Credit:AP

Many state governments are not reporting COVID-19 deaths if there is comorbidity, in order to reduce panic and for political point-scoring, while testing shortages mean many Indians are dying before it is confirmed they have the virus.

“I can easily say that around 1000 COVID-19 cases are getting funerals every day. This figure is seven to eight times higher than the official figures,” the manager of one crematorium in Delhi said.

Despite emergency ventilators and oxygen concentrators arriving from the United Kingdom, as well as Australia, Germany, and Ireland, there continues to be critical oxygen shortages across much of the country. Hundreds of patients are dying outside hospitals and in their homes each day as a result.

Oxygen cylinders are being sold on the black market for over $1750 in Delhi, despite India’s capital running out of oxygen. In non-COVID times an oxygen cylinder was available for around $100.

Indians unable to get admitted into a hospital are increasingly being forced to set up a makeshift COVID-19 ICU in their homes with a cylinder and hiring nursing staff to provide care.

However, this option is only open to wealthier Indians and on Wednesday morning, a fifteen-month-old baby died outside a government hospital in the eastern city of Visakhapatnam, after the hospital was unable to provide oxygen.

The girl’s parents told the Indian media they begged staff for admission for ninety minutes before her tragic death and could not afford to purchase oxygen themselves.

On Tuesday, the Delhi high court warned the city’s politicians that it would hand over control of the city’s affairs to India’s nationally ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), due to an escalating black market for medicines.



One Delhi resident said they had been forced to pay $860 for a vial of remdesivir, despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) stating there is no evidence to suggest it improves survival and the market cap being $35.

“The price is going up every day but when your grandma is sick you are desperate and will pay that price,” they said, after being told to purchase the drug by a doctor.

“The issue is that the Indian Government guidelines for drugs like remdesivir says that they may play a role in COVID-19 recovery whereas WHO has a conditional recommendation against it due to insufficient data,” explains Dr Jyoti Joshi, the Head of South Asia at the Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy.

“This potential of use – even without evidence-based benefit – has created a huge demand for use in each patient, causing the public sector and even the private supplies to run out and lead to black marketing.”

Criminals have now begun taking advantage of the desperation and in the western city of Pune, four people were arrested for selling liquid paracetamol as seven vials of remdesivir at $600.

Many Indian states are currently under curfew to control the spread of the virus and the western state of Maharashtra, home to the financial capital of Mumbai, may extend its lockdown until mid-May.

Meanwhile, Nearby Goa will enter into its first lockdown this year from today after a spike in cases.

Telegraph, London

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