Inside the treacherous black market for Remdesivir in India— from private hospitals to distributors

Inside the treacherous black market for Remdesivir in India— from private hospitals to distributors
The demand for Remdesivir is surging in India and operators in the black market are making big moneyBCCL
  • A single vial of Remdesivir is being sold for ₹30,000 on the black market in India. This is ten times the retail price.
  • Even if you’re willing to cough up the exorbitant amount, there’s still a chance that someone with deeper pockets could outbid you.
  • The circulation of Remdesivir in the black market extends right from the distributor to doctors in smaller private hospitals.
The black market for drugs that could treat COVID-19 is surging in India, especially when it comes to Remdesivir. A single vial is going for up to ₹30,000. So, if a critical patient needs six vials for treatment, which is the norm, they would have to shell out ₹1,80,000 in order to procure the required dosage.

That’s more than ten times the price on the regulated market.

Name of the companyBrand name for RemdesivirMaximum retail price (MRP)
Cadila HealthcareREMDAC₹899
Syngene International RemWin₹2,450
Dr Reddy’s LaboratoriesREDYX₹2,700
CiplaCIPREMI₹3,000
Mylan PharmaceuticalsDESREM₹3,400
Jubilant GenericsJUBI-R₹3,400
Hetero HealthcareCOVIFOR₹3,490

Remdesivir is not proven to help in recovery from the Coronavirus, but it is one of the few treatment methods that has been approved by the Indian government. "There are very few drugs which have been authorised by the government. Remdesivir is one of them, even though there is no certainty that this will work or not," a doctor at a government hospital in India told Business Insider.
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You maybe ready to pay a higher price — but you could still be outbid


Hansa’s (named changed to protect identity) uncle is in Delhi, in a critical condition, and the doctors have prescribed Remdesivir in hopes of treatment. The only problem is that no licensed pharmacy in Delhi seems to have it in stock.

“We were supposed to get six vials in the morning for ₹35,000 through a doctor contact. Turns out somebody was ready to pay ₹50,000 for them and the vials went to them,” she told Business Insider India. “Another doctor told us that procured six vials for ₹80,000 for another patient.”

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And these prices are just the lower end of the stick. Aakash (named changed) told Business Insider he can procure a single vial for ₹30,000. In the bargaining process, he did highlight that vials are also available for ₹15,000 to ₹26,000 apiece, but not in Delhi. Anyone who wanted Remdesivir at those prices would have to procure it from outside the city.

How to buy Remdesivir on the black market?


Just like with other deals on the black market, what matters is who you know. The right connections and the right amount of trust can open a lot of doors.

For the common man, the best bet is just to keep in touch with their doctors. Doctors know everyone down the supply chain and can help a patient, who is truly in need, get in touch with a supplier who may possibly have Remdesivir.
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Someone who doesn’t have a well-connected doctor is likely to reach out within his friend’s group. And, eventually, someone will know someone, who may be able to get them in touch with a supplier. But trust has a greater role to play here.

“The first question he asked me was, who needs it? I told him it was for someone special, who can be trusted. He only agreed to let me have the vials if I could vouch for my friend,” Aakash told Business Insider.

The private hospital game


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Sources who have bought Remdesivir by getting in touch with their doctors insist that doctors are not taking a commission. But distributors on the other end of the supply chain have a different story to tell.

According to workers at distribution companies, doctors at government hospitals are prepared to treat patients even with alternative medicines available in the market — like steroids, which have proven to be effective in patients with moderate and severe symptoms.

But, when it comes to private hospitals, especially smaller ones in semi-urban cities, healthcare workers are paid such meagre salaries. According to sources, selling medicines on the side or making medicines disappear overnight so that the patient is forced to buy more, is the norm.

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“When you know there are alternatives available in the market, then why aren’t doctors recommending that patients go for them. Why are they insisting on Remdesivir?” an employee at the distribution company told Business Insider. “In most cases, especially in smaller cities, the doctors are involved.”

According to him, all the doctor has to say is that Remdesivir is a superior option to other medication, and the patient or his loved one is obviously going to try and get the ‘best’ option in a situation of crisis.

The black market supply chain


All doses of Remdesivir, no matter what brand, are going to come from the big seven pharmaceutical giants in India currently manufacturing the vials.
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These pharmaceutical companies send the medicine to the distributors, who are in turn supposed to dole out the doses to licensed pharmacies.

But that’s where things get a little murky.

Distributors do 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 in his known circle.
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So, when someone comes looking for Remdesivir, the distributor directs them to one of the people within his circle who may have hoarded some of the doses. And, going to a third party, who is not a license holder, makes it a black market deal.

SEE ALSO:
If the COVID-19 vaccine prices are too high for some, then why not use direct benefit transfer

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