Rajat Sharma

Merchants of death: Selling fake Remdesivir vials

akbToday I want to speak about a gang of unscrupulous traders based in Surat and Indore, who sold several thousand fake Remdesivir injections to relatives of critical Covid-19 patients when the second wave of pandemic was at its peak last month. Both Surat and Indore Police have so far arrested 40 persons involved in this deadly racket. They had planned to make nearly one lakh fake Remdesivir injections and sell them to needy Covid patients, at a time when Remdesivir injections were not available in the market due to a big surge in demand.

These people are, literally, merchants of death. Think of the poor Covid patients who were fighting for their lives during the peak of pandemic and their relatives desperate to procure vials of Remdesivir injection. Till now, Indore Police has arrested 29 and Surat Police has nabbed 11 persons involved in this racket. The gang members were making fake injections by mixing salt with glucose and passing them off as genuine Remdesivir vials. Within five days, the gang members earned Rs one crore, and in fifteen days, their earnings went up to Rs three crore. They spent Rs 40 to 50 on fake hologram stickers of Remdesivir manufacturers, and sold each vial from Rs 5,000 to Rs 50,000. Indore Police officials said, the gang had planned to make nearly one lakh fake Remdesivir vials ready to be unloaded in the market.

Police have collected information from hospitals about 19 Covid-19 patients dying due to fake injections, and hospital records in four other states are being checked. The gang had sold fake injections in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. One gang member Sunil told police that he had alone sold 1,200 fake injections, out of which 700 were sold to Jabalpur city hospital and the remaining 500 were sold to retailers in Indore.

The fake injections were being manufactured in a farm house in Surat, Gujarat. Indore police stumbled upon the racket when it arrested two persons Dinesh Chaudhary and Dhiraj Sajnani and found fake Remdesivir vials in their possession. They disclosed the names of two agents, Asim Bhale and Praveen, who were also taken into custody. On interrogation, the four named Sunil Mishra as the main supplier of fake injections in MP. It was Sunil Mishra who revealed the names of the two masterminds, Kaushal Vora and Puneet Shah. The gang members confessed they had sold nearly 5,000 fake injections in different cities of Gujarat. Of the 700 fake vials sold in Indore, ten patients died in hospitals, according to police. The figures may rise as more hospital records are being checked by police.

In Jabalpur, another city in Madhya Pradesh, the owner of a private hospital was involved in this racket. Sunil Mishra struck a deal with Jabalpur City Hospital director Sarabjit Singh Mokha. Mishra supplied nearly 500 fake injections at the rate of Rs 7,000-8,000 per vial. He made a clean profit of Rs 40 lakh in this deal, while the hospital charged patients exorbitant sums for supplying these fake vials. At least 200 fake vials were administered to Covid-19 patients, and out of them nine died.

Why doctors failed to differentiate between the genuine and fake Remdesivir vials? The adulterators had done proper spade work in advance. Kaushal Vora and Puneet Shah wanted to make a quick buck. At that time, Remdesivir was being sold to only those who had Covid-19 positive test reports with them. The manufacturers made a fake Covid positive report, and procured a genuine Remdesivir vial. Since both were in the pharma trade, they knew that mixing glucose with distilled water would give an almost similar look, though the genuine vial had a thick liquid shape. For thickness, they added salt to the liquid. The adulterators were certain that patients would not die if they were injected with glucose and salt. They arranged for vials and wrappers from a supplier in Vapi and procured fake stickers from Mumbai. As soon as the vials, wrappers and stickers arrived, the two masterminds started ‘manufacturing’ fake Remdesivir injections.

Doctors in an Indore hospital were the first to smell the racket. While injecting in the body of a patient, doctors noticed that the salt was not easily mixing with the liquid. Police was informed and the vials were sent for test. During test, it was found that the vial contained salt and glucose, instead of Remdesivir drug. Police spoke to relatives of patients and arrested the sellers, who, in turn, named the agents and manufacturers. After much spade work and search, Indore police managed to trace the relatives of 650 Covid patients, who were sold fake injections.

Surat SP Usha Rada told our reporter Nirnay Kapoor that nearly 63,000 empty vials, and thousands of fake stickers were seized from the adulteration factory located in a farm house in Pinjarat village near Surat. Mumbai Police helped in tracing suppliers of fake stickers and empty vials who were located in Vapi.

I feel sad while writing these details. Imagine, at a time when the entire nation was facing a grave challenge to the lives of millions of people from the deadly second wave of pandemic, there were charlatans who were out to make money by selling a vital injection that could have saved people’s lives. Think of the trauma the relatives of Covid-19 patients had to go through, when their near and dear ones were struggling for breath, and needed this injection to save their lives. These relatives were desperate to get hold of a single Remdesivir vial that could save their near and dear ones, but the merchants of death were waiting, ready to pounce upon them, sell them fake ones, and make a clean profit.

Think of the mental agony families had to go through when they heard that their near and dear ones had died after being administered an injection, that turned out to be fake. Had the alert doctors in Indore not checked the fake Remdesivir injections in time, more lives could have been lost. I also want to thank the Indore and Surat Police for doing a good job in busting this racket. They investigated the entire racket minutely and arrested those who were in league with these unscrupulous people.

For playing with lives of innocent people, I think whatever punishment that is given by law to these gang members will be insufficient. For others, I have a piece of advice: Please be careful when you buy a medicine. There are sharks waiting, ready to fool you and make money. Please check the stickers and other manufacturing details carefully, and always buy medicines from an authorized chemist shop.

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