Cyber-criminals run online black market in COVID-19 drugs : The Tribune India

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Cyber-criminals run online black market in COVID-19 drugs

Cyber-criminals run online black market in COVID-19 drugs

Police personnel donate blood after Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray appealed donors to come forward due to the shortage of blood for COVID-19 and non-COVID patients, in Mumbai on Saturday. PTI photo

Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service
Mumbai, June 6

Cyber-criminals are using the darknet---a shady corner of the Internet---to hawk drugs like tocilizumab and remdesivir to kin of patients critically ill from the COVID-19 virus.

The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) is yet to clear the use of these drugs to treat the virus even though they have been found to be effective to some extent in foreign countries.

According to information available from hackers’ groups online tocilizumab and its generic equivalents that have already disappeared from chemists’ shops in Mumbai are available in the grey market.

“Each vial of Tocilizumab that usually costs around Rs 18-20,000 is available for around Rs 90 to 95,000,” says a hacker.

Remdesivir manufactured by some Bangladeshi companies under license from Gilead Inc, the patent-holder of the drug, is also being sold in the black-market in Mumbai.

Members of hacking groups say the use of the darknet has zoomed during the COCID-19 pandemic as kin of patients search for various drugs apart from blood plasma of those who have recovered from the virus.

However, only select Indian hospitals have been allowed to conduct plasma trials on patients suffering from COVID-19 and hence the demand for blood plasma from India is much lower.

Sources in the cybercrime cell of the Mumbai Police warn that sharing bank details with dubious dealers on the darknet could result in severe financial losses. Moreover tracing the criminals is not an easy task since most of the servers used by them are based abroad and accessible only by the Tor browser on the encrypted Onion network.

Though several Indian companies like Cipla, Jubiliant Pharma, Hetero, etc. have obtained the license from Gilead to manufacture Remdesivir in the country, ICMR has not yet permitted them to sell the drug as a treatment for COVID-19.

This has however not stopped doctors of private hospitals in Mumbai from prescribing Remdesivir and Tocilizumab to patients who are critically ill from the virus. According to sources here, doctors of a private hospital in Mumbai managed to save the life of an IAS officer using one of the two drugs. The bureaucrat who was on the verge of being put on a ventilator has recovered and returned home, according to sources here.

Mumbai’s doctors treating Covid-19 patients, who are networking with their counterparts around the world on social media, are demanding that ICMR quickly permit the use of Tocilizumab and Remdesivir as treatments.

Political leaders in Mumbai too have gotten into the act and have written to the Union Health Ministry demanding that ICMR quickly speed up the process to clear the two drugs. Maharashtra’s Housing Minister Jitendra Awhad, who was critically ill from the virus, and Member of Parliament from Borivli in Mumbai Gopal Shetty were among those who have written to the ministry to speed up the process.

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