June 30, 2020

By Shaukat Korai


KARACHI: Increasing demand for drugs and other equipment used in treating the novel coronavirus disease has caused a massive upsurge in prices in Sindh, leaving many unable to afford basic equipment such as oxygen cylinders, oximeters and thermal guns.

Those who are able to make the purchase however are unable to find most drugs and medical tools needed for COVID-19 treatment, either due to delays in procurement or because of panic buyers and hoarders emptying out shelves before anyone else.

Nasir Hussain, a pharmacist in Karachi, says that it has become extremely difficult to acquire supplies ever since the government’s “smart lockdown” was imposed in many parts of the city. Moreover, private pharmacists should be exempted from all blame since all importers are selling their products at a higher markup due to the surge in global demand. Nasir also adds that there are only four “brands” of oxygen cylinders available in the market, and those two at several times their original selling cost.

According to renowned economist Dr. Muhammad Zubair Khan, artificial inflation is a common occurrence in Pakistan where market manipulation might as well be a given.

Secretary General of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) Dr. Qaiser Sajjad claims that drugs and medical equipment are being traded without prescriptions or recommendations from physicians, which may have caused a market shortage. He suggests that there is a need for strong, enforceable laws to prevent the predation of desperate COVID-19 affectees.

He adds that due to lack of available beds in most public hospitals in Sindh, many have had to opt for treatment while in self-isolation. As such, more people are buying up oxygen cylinders, clearing them out of pharmacies and inadvertently causing a severe shortage in markets.

Dr. Sajjad states that false and unconfirmed information is being disseminated, such as hospitals demanding money to hand over deceased “coronavirus” patients’ bodies to their relatives. He stresses that doctors and paramedical staff are also among the many that have contracted and succumbed to the virus.

As per data issued by the Sindh health department, a total of 200,093 tests have been conducted throughout the province, of whom 80,446 have been diagnosed positive. At the moment, Sindh has 33,131 active cases among which 31,665 are currently in self-isolation while 1,388 are undergoing treatment in 78 public and private hospitals across the province. Till date, 1,078 coronavirus patients in Sindh have succumbed to the disease while 40,740 have managed to recover.