Pandemic black market
In Valenzuela, the city government shut down a sari-sari or neighborhood convenience store that reportedly sold fake paracetamol drugs. Authorities are also pursuing reports of possible hoarding and overpricing as people worried about Omicron snap up supplies of paracetamol and other analgesics, especially the branded ones.
Demand for the ordinary medications for cough, colds and flu has spiked along with the continuing surge in COVID cases believed driven by Omicron. And with shortages of items such as Biogesic, Bioflu and Neozep reported in many areas, the unscrupulous have stepped in.
Aside from fake paracetamol, prescription medications for COVID and certain essential drugs are reportedly being sold in the black market. Apart from the higher price, health officials have warned that such drugs may also be fake. Health officials have also warned about the proliferation of rapid antigen tests that are not registered with the Food and Drug Administration.
President Duterte has ordered the Philippine National Police to arrest profiteers, hoarders and black market operators, and to file criminal charges in relation to food and drug regulations as well as the law defining illegal acts during a state of national health emergency. The PNP must carry out the order with zeal and dispatch, to send a strong message that the government means business.
A strong response must be complemented with efforts to address supply issues that encourage public patronage of COVID medications and test kits sourced from the black market. The government has moved to quickly stabilize the supply of paracetamol and other analgesics. But it must also improve access to medical consultations and telemedicine services, so that infected people can get proper diagnosis and treatment without joining the ever-growing crowds in hospitals.
The high demand for antigen kits, including those not vetted by the FDA, is due to the steep cost of COVID testing in this country. For sure, the reluctance to undergo a reliable RT-PCR test is in turn contributing to the rapid spread of new cases, which stood at 21,819 yesterday – a dizzying surge from just 318 on Dec. 27.
Several local government units offer free RT-PCR testing, with the city of Manila allowing even non-residents to get drive-through tests. But the lines get longer every day, and there are many other parts of the country where free testing is not available. Until this problem is addressed, people will opt for affordable, accessible alternatives – including antigen tests in the black market.