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Fraudsters taking advantage of COVID-19 misery

Chemical structure of Remdesivir, one of the items for which fraudsters are conning Indians out of money. Image credit: Hbf878, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Nicholas Parry

India’s plight amidst the second wave of COVID-19 is dire. The death toll is rising and there is still no end in sight to the rise in cases. Many have lost loved ones. In these trying times, fraudsters are conning people, adding to the misery the country is suffering through.

As reported in The Independent, when Kanika Saxena transferred Rs 18,000 to a man to get remdesivir injections for a COVID-19 patient who was in a critical condition, she would later find the money had been stolen. “We waited seven hours for this man to deliver the injections. I tried calling him from at least nine, ten different numbers, but he never picked up. He stopped responding to texts after I sent him a screenshot showing that the money has been transferred to his account,” she said, quoted by the publication.

This tragic situation — one which plays with people’s very lives — is far from isolated. Oxygen and medicine shortages have become common across the country, and with this come a thriving black market, with individuals taking advantage of people’s desperation to turn a profit.

“People are stuck because ethics say they shouldn’t buy anything from the black market, but the desperate situation forces them to go for unethical practices,” said public health expert Amulya Nidhi, from the public health forum Jan Swasthya Abhiyan.

Evidence is mounting that individuals are running scamming campaigns through social media, with black market numbers circulating online. These individuals promise to deliver items such as oxygen canisters and medications. When contacted, these individuals typically request payments upfront, and, as was the case with Kanika Saxena, once payment has been made all contact will cease.

Such a situation of black markets is far from unprecedented in India. Health Issues India has repeatedly made reference to the dire situation faced by those in need of kidney donations. Manipulation and conning is common on both sides of the donation. Those in need of kidney donations often face considerable waiting time due to the lack of legitimate kidney donors in India. As such many must either face black market kidney dealers or simply wait until they die, with a price mark-up awaiting their desperation.

On the other side of the situation are the donors themselves. The donations are willing, in a loose sense of the term, as the black market dealers take advantage of desperate situations. Many face poverty to such a level that they are willing to donate a kidney simply in order to feed their family. Black market dealers often target entire villages that are facing this situation, with individuals only being given a fraction of the actual selling price of the kidney.

This desperation that drives black market conditions is now being faced across the entire country. There is no end to the number of individuals who are willing to go to extreme lengths where a family member cannot avail treatment. As such, this situation is likely to continue as India’s medical system is pushed to the brink by the surging number of cases.

The situation of rising case counts could progressively worsen as more variants begin to circulate. As Health Issues India previously noted

“As cases rise there is an ever-increasing risk of the development of new mutations. This situation has become a reality as the so-called “Bengal strain” (B.1.618) has been documented in India. This new strain is the first recorded triple mutation. Scientists have expressed concern that the triple mutation strain is potentially more infectious, better able to evade the host’s immune system, and, perhaps most concerningly, could be able to infect individuals who have already contracted other strains of COVID-19.”

Daily deaths have now risen to exceed 3,000 as of April 27th. Cases have exceeded 300,000 consistently for a week — and continue to rise. The daily new case count exceeded global records some days ago, and continues to rise.

While international aid has started to be sent from countries such as the UK, US and across Europe, the situation remains at breaking point. With so many dying not from severe symptoms of COVID-19, but from a lack of medical necessities such as oxygen, the country is reeling from a situation in which many of these deaths are preventable. Many more will turn to black markets before the crisis is over. Many of these will face scams that not only see themselves or their loved ones facing life-threatening illness, but also the fact that another person is cruel enough to have taken advantage of this.

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