A recent court case has revealed that the Indian government paid double the price for Chinese rapid antibody test kits for COVID-19. The information comes within days of several state governments suspending the use of these kits over irregularities in data, which can topple efforts to contain the spread of the deadly pathogen.
An NDTV report stated that the Chinese test kits were sold at an exorbitant rate to the government by Real Metabolics — the Indian distributor. The news came to fore following a legal dispute between the importer and the distributor that landed the details of the deal in the Delhi High Court.
An order for 5 lakh rapid antibody test kits was placed with the Chinese company Wondfo via the Indian Council of Medical Research on March 27. On April 16, Vikram Misri, the Indian Ambassador to China, had taken to Twitter to inform that the kits had already been dispatched to India. Matrix – the importer – had bought these from China at Rs 245 per piece. However, the distributors — Real Metabolics and Aark Pharmaceuticals – decided to sell them at a 60 percent higher rate of Rs 600 per kit to the government.
The massive profit margin would have gone unnoticed had the Tamil Nadu government not procured the same kits at Rs 600 per piece from Shan Biotech — another distributor. This deal irked Real Metabolics, who moved the High Court and claimed they are the sole distributors of the kits imported by Matrix. That is when the court took note of the mark-up that was “on the higher side” and sought the price of rapid antibody test the kits be brought down to Rs 400 per kit.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
The Delhi High Court observed: “The economy is virtually at a standstill for the last month. There is an element of disquiet apropos one’s safety. For people to be assured that the pandemic is under control and for governments to ensure and for agencies engaged in the frontline battle to safeguard peoples’ health, more kits/tests should be made available urgently at the lowest cost, for carrying out extensive tests throughout the country. Public interest must outweigh private gain. The dispute between the parties should give way to the larger public good. In view of the above, the kits/test should be sold at a price not beyond Rs. 400/ inclusive of GST.”
Meanwhile, ICMR has claimed that the approved price range for the test kits was from Rs 528 to Rs 795, depending on technical specifications, supply capacity, etc.To follow our full coverage on coronavirus, click here