Scams galore in the name of Covid cure

Compared to the Spanish flu of 1918, the present pandemic appears less lethal, with over 13 lakh deaths across the globe and around 1.3 lakh in India so far. But the spread of panic has been faster than that of the disease and the exorbitant and inconsistent billing is due to the panic. People are tempted to buy or use questionable products that claim to help diagnose, treat, cure or prevent Covid.

Scams galore in the name of Covid cure

Malpractice: Fake testing is common. The victims are such who wish to keep it a secret to avoid being quarantined in government facilities.

Dr R Kumar

President, Society for Promotion of Ethical and Affordable HealthCare

As Covid-19 cases are again surging, panic-stricken people are falling prey to quacks, occult practitioners and cyber cheats. The combination of financial and health threats makes people more vulnerable and creates opportunities for fraudsters. Many are tempted to buy or use questionable products that claim to help diagnose, treat, cure or prevent Covid-19.

Scores of individuals are getting tested privately to escape notice by government agencies to avoid quarantine or hospitalisation and falling prey to fake testing and treatment of unproven value. In many cases, the conmen supply counterfeit drugs or disappear after taking away money. Immunity-boosting remedies of no value have become a big business in the name of alternative medicine. Even well-known hospital chains or neighborhood labs are churning out treatments and tests bereft of scientific value and serve to dupe the gullible.

It is not uncommon to hear news of a Covid patient’s body not released by a five-star hospital till the bill for lakhs of rupees is paid. Pharma companies also join in the loot, since they are only required to strike deals from the top to supply their medicines in bulk.

Statistics show that there are increases in drug-related deaths among people who may be overly concerned about Covid. Mohalla clinics in Delhi are alleged to have made false entries of patients to fetch extra income.

The redeeming news is the fall in the number of positive cases per day, which indicates that India may have crossed the peak of the pandemic. However, complacency of any kind is uncalled for. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 had infected 500 million people, with 50 million deaths. In India alone, it caused 12-13 million deaths.

The present pandemic appears to be less lethal in comparison, with over 13 lakh deaths across the globe and about 1.3 lakh in India so far. But the spread of panic has been faster than that of the disease and the exorbitant and inconsistent billing is due to the panic.

Counting every death as a corona death during the pandemic, caused due to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic infection or aging, is also a scam. Does it pay to declare a death as a ‘Covid death’? A person with type-2 diabetes, who was unable to get insulin, died of diabetes ketoacidosis, even as he had tested positive for Covid-19. His death was deemed to be a Covid death, not a diabetes death. Covid was incidental, not the cause of the death.

Fake testing is common. The victims are such who wish to keep it a secret to avoid being put in the quarantine in government facilities. When a person appears rich or holding the health insurance card and comes for corona test, he is generally declared positive. Next, his family and friends queue up to rule out the presence of the contagion. Most are reported positive and then referred for treatment to five-star Covid centres, for a consideration. A chain of extortion gets going. Hospitals of dubious reputation charge lakhs of rupees for providing beds in their premises, sans medical treatment of any value. Each visit of the doctor or any material used is charged at an extortionist rate.

Diagnostic centres and unscrupulous individuals also indulge in the business of issuing fake Covid negative certificates, without any testing, to members of the public for purposes of travel and access to some privileges. This creates a potential for the spread of the pandemic along the trail of the visitors.

A study at Harvard showed that 5.2 million medical errors are happening in India annually. Similarly, the British Medical Journal quoted that India is recording a lot of medical errors. How many more errors will now occur with bogus cures? Fraudsters from various pathies have flooded consumers with a plethora of phony remedies. A host of pills made of herbs, teas, essential oils, cannabin, colloidal silver and intravenous vitamin-C therapies are among the supposed anti-Covid treatments hawked in clinics and on websites.

In serious cases, hospitals apply a protocol of treatment — antiviral in the first phase, oxygen and anti-inflammatory drugs in the second phase and anti-coagulants in the third phase.

Not long ago, the fad of the administration of chloroquine, Remdesivir and human plasma was floated as the panacea. While some patients reported marginal benefits, media hyped the benefits beyond comprehension. This raised the demand of drugs/plasma from recovered patients. The dealers charged exorbitant amounts, ranging from 20-50 thousand for each unit, fake or real.

Some fraudsters are minting money on the pretext of tantar-mantar. The operators charge anything between Rs 8,000 and Rs 25,000 for rituals that extend up to three weeks, depending upon the degree of risk.

Scamsters are using the pandemic as an opportunity to mint money by claiming to sell exotic herbs or rare medicines. Once money is paid, it is extremely difficult to track such sellers. Corona-themed phishing lures, malware infections, network intrusions, and cyber frauds have become rampant across the dark web. Massive financial frauds, government corruption and misuse of the state machinery have been unleashed. One gets messages seeking donations or selling cheap Covid insurance to steal money or plant malware to allow criminals to access to your passwords and financial information.

Some have started harping on advance booking on a ‘soon-to-be launched’ Covid vaccine! Whether the vaccine will be safe and effective or prove to be another scam on humanity, only time will tell.

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