The COVID-19 crisis in India has hit a new low as corrupt scammers are now prowling social media for desperate patients who are willing to pay a premium for hospital bed space and black market drugs.
Video of an undercover sting operation in the Indian city of Rajkot showed a hospital worker selling a hospital bed to a desperate woman whose relative needed critical care. “I won’t take anything less than Rs 9,000,” the worker said, which is about $120. “You will get the bed in 30 minutes.”
The family negotiated down to Rs 8,000 and the man called someone inside the hospital who finalized the deal. Within an hour, the sick patient is whisked through a back door of the hospital, skirting the 50 or 60 waiting cars in front.
So desperate is the need for coveted hospital space that scenes like this are reportedly playing out across the country as overwhelmed hospitals grapple with a tsunami of patients, critical supply shortages, and an obvious lack of vigilance.
Police uncovered the deal after following the initial exchange on social media, where many patients are pleading for help. Hospitals have also used social media platforms to plead for supplies like oxygen and drugs.
India, which is the world’s largest producer of generic drugs, has also reached a critical shortage of remdesivir and favipiravir, which have both had moderate success in treating COVID-19 patients.
Raman Gaikwad, an infectious diseases specialist at Sahyadri Hospital in the western city of Pune, told the Indian Express that remdesivir manufacturers were ordered to cease production in January because of a decrease in infections. When the latest wave hit, they were left with severe shortages. “One solution to this crisis was to create a stockpile of antiviral drugs when cases were low,” Gaikwad told the paper. “But that did not happen.”
A network of activists, including YouTuber Kusha Kapila, have joined together to try to source and share information on hospital bed availability, pharmacy supplies, and food delivery to help people stay away from price gougers on the black market. One of the activists told AFP that there is a new request for help every 30 seconds.
An investigation carried out by media outlet India Today trailed a black market ring selling remdesivir for six times the market price. Payments had to be made in cash and the patients were told the drug—which the World Health Organization has said doesn’t even work—would be smuggled out of the hospital. Patients were given injections upon delivery of the cash.
On Thursday, India reported a record-breaking 314,000 new COVID-19 infections, the most recorded anywhere in the world since the pandemic began.