While the coronavirus outbreak has led to a surge in demand for N-95 masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), reports of the safety gear being sold at exorbitant rates due to lack of price sealing have also been doing the rounds. Taking cognisance of multiple complaints, Maharashtra Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has written to the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA), requesting the body to fix the prices of N-95 masks and PPE kits. The state FDA is seemingly unable to control the PPE rates and take action due to absence of price cap as was the case with hand sanitisers and other masks. Later, these items were included in the essential commodities (EC) category as under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, by the government.
Even prices for two and three ply masks and hand sanitisers were sealed by the government. “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers are not aware of the exact maximum retail price (MRP). While the MRP printed by the manufacturers is exorbitant, doctors, healthcare workers and common citizens are forced to pay the surged prices. In the interest of public health and availability of the items at reasonable rates, it is imperative to fix their pricing,” urged Arun Unhale, FDA commissioner, in the letter. SB Patil, joint commissioner of FDA (drug), Pune division, thinks that the huge demand for PPE kits and N-95 masks has encouraged makers to hike the prices. “Although we had received complaints about surge pricing of N-95 masks and PPE kits, we could not take action against the guilty.
The MRP is not yet fixed by the government, and the legal metrology department deals with the MRP violations. Such cases were referred by us to them. But they too were not able to do much as the prices were not yet fixed,” said Patil. “Rates of other masks and hand sanitisers have been controlled after they were included in essential commodities.
Once the prices are fixed, the rates of N-95 masks and PPE kits will also come down,” he assured. Dr Sanjay Patil, vice president of Indian Medical Association (IMA), Maharashtra chapter, informed that not only are the N-95 mask and PPE prices hiked, but there also seems to be a shortage of these products in the market. “At present, PPE kits and N-95 masks are in great demand, which are used by both healthcare workers and regular citizens. People are hoarding them and making a killing. N-95 masks, which were once available for Rs 150-200, now cost around Rs 350-400 in the market. The rates need to be capped,” he asserted.
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