Amid allegations of hoarding and blackmarketing of N95 masks, the All Food and Drug Licence Holder Foundation (AFDLHF) has demanded strict action against manufacturers of the masks and said distribution should be done under the jurisdiction of the state government.
This comes after social activist Anjali Damania raised the issue of illegal sale of masks at exorbitant rates in the market. However, civic officials have said, PPE kits, N-95 and surgical masks and face shields now cost 30 per cent less.
Damania said there are just two companies in Mumbai producing N-95 or equivalent masks - Venus Safety and Health Private Limited (in the Taloja industrial area) and Magnum Health and Safety Pvt Ltd (near Palghar). "Both claim the Central government has taken over production and have refused to entertain our purchase requests," she said.
“Earlier, we had managed to get one order each accepted by Venus and Magnum. But later, Venus flatly refused to entertain further orders, citing production constraints,” she said.
On January 28, Haffkine Institute had purchased 92,500 masks for tuberculosis clinics, at a unit price of Rs 17.33. Similarly, on March 13, the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority brought 2-ply, 3-ply, N-95 masks and sanitisers under the Essential Commodities Act to prevent hoarding, black marketing and profiteering on these items.
According to Damania, daily, she receives more than 100 requests from doctors and hospitals in desperate need of PPE and masks. But the Maharashtra government and the chief secretary are uninterested. “I was told that both Venus and Magnum, were now directly under the control of GoI (government of India). If this is true, then why is there such an acute shortage of supply to government hospitals, private hospitals and among healthcare workers? Why is each government hospital pleading for donations of N-95 masks? she questioned.
Abhay Pandey, national president of the AFDLHF said, “We have received many complaints from citizens and doctors, stating the cost of the N-95 mask on the black market is Rs 250 to Rs 300. We demand action against the manufacturers.”
"We can only disclose the status of our stock to hospitals and the government. We are unable to disclose any more information," Mahendra Mahadik, manager corporate sales from Venus Safety & Health Pvt Ltd said, not wishing to comment further.
However. when The Free Press Journal asked which were the governments being supplied, Mahadik said, "All I will say is, it goes to the ministry of health."
Despite repeated calls, Magnum Health and Safety Pvt Ltd were not available for comment.
Dr Deepak Baid, president, Association of Medical Consultants, said the government has yet to cap the prices of N-95 masks and PPE and there is always a shortage of kits. “While we have always been at the forefront and actively involved in the care of both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients, we find that our members have been facing multiple issues,” he said.