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Fake healthcare products posing risk to public health

  • Published at 05:33 pm July 2nd, 2020

The ring has also been using attractive packaging to sell their fake goods, worth Tk2.5 crore, in the open market

The rampant sales of fake healthcare products, especially hand sanitizers, are now posing great risk to public health amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Since the emergence of the pandemic and a rise in demand for healthcare products, a vested quarter had been producing and selling fake hand sanitizers – using colour, flavour and liquid jelly and rectified spirit – without any certification or government approval.

Earlier on June 25, a Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) mobile court together with the  Directorate General of Drug Administration (DGDA), busted a factory in Jatrabari area in Dhaka and sentenced three people to different jail terms, and fined another for the production and marketing of fake hand sanitizers across the country.

The ring has also been using attractive packaging to sell their fake goods, worth Tk2.5 crore, in the open market. 

Not only this factory, other unscrupulous traders have also been producing and selling fake or low quality Savlon antiseptic liquids, face masks, hand gloves and personal protection equipment (PPE) all over Bangladesh through wholesale drug markets in the capital, namely Mitford, Babubazar and Shahbagh.

With the number of Covid-19 patients growing across the country day by day, more people are now trying their best to disinfect themselves and things they use on a daily basis as a deterrent from the deadly virus.

However, many of them are now being deceived while buying these fake healthcare products and fake PPEs (personal protection equipment), such as face masks and full-body protection suits.

Talking to Dhaka Tribune, doctors and medicine traders said that a hand sanitizer should be 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% distilled water and glycerine to be effective against viruses. However, products being sold as hand sanitizers by hawkers on the street do not follow the given guidelines. In most cases, these fake hand sanitizers are just coloured water mixed with spirit.

At the same time, fake face masks have also flooded the market which has increased the risk of an infection rather than protection from it.

However, medicine traders alleged that no strong action against such unscrupulous activities was taken even after informing law enforcement agencies.

Sadequr Rahman, president of Bangladesh Chemists and Druggists Association, a top organization of drug store owners, said they submitted a written complaint to the director general of DGDA and also sent a copy to the Dhaka DC office to take necessary action against these fake goods.

He also alleged that fake and low quality antiseptic liquids, hexisol, hand sanitizers, low quality masks, PPEs, hand gloves were being sold on the street in front of Mitford, Babubazar medicine market and on various footpaths across the capital.

“Such illegal practices need to be eradicated and the culprits brought to justice quickly. People will be at high health risk if immediate action is not taken against such activities,” he added. 

Talking to Dhaka Tribune, a trader seeking anonymity said that various shops, including hawkers on footpaths, also sell cheap and low quality protective equipment. It has become difficult to distinguish the real from the fake. To save themselves from the coronavirus, poor people are buying whatever they can get on the streets.

“The fake goods suppliers have been selling their products from pharmacies on credit. They have not only spread in the capital, but also in villages, districts and divisions across the country,” he said.

Jahangir Hossain, a resident of Dhaka’s Farmgate area, bought a hand sanitizer a few days ago. However, he felt a burning sensation in his hands for several hours after applying it.

“It is really difficult to distinguish which product is real and which one is fake,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

Doctor also said these fake and adulterated hand sanitizers also pose risk to the human skin and do not play any role in preventing Covid-19.

They also said these fake and adulterated products are being brought at a low price and then sold at a higher price to maximise profits, and were being sold under the cover of “imported products” of different foreign brands.

Swadhinata Chikitshak Parishad (Swachip) Secretary General Prof Dr Mohammad Abdul Aziz told Dhaka Tribune: “We are hearing these kinds of reports. The risk of getting infected with coronavirus rises much higher when healthcare workers, including doctors, use such fake hand sanitizers, gloves and masks. Doctors are getting infected more due to the use of fake PPE and masks.”

Using fake masks can cause damage to the lungs instead of protecting them. Again, fake Savlon antiseptic liquids and hand sanitizers can damage the skin, he added.

“All the authorities concerned of the government are responsible for looking into these issues; they have to play an important role in controlling and maintaining standards. And immediate action is needed against those who are producing such fake products,” he added.

Md Sohel Rana, assistant inspector general (AIG-media) at Police Headquarters, said law enforcement agencies have launched an operation to recover fake Savlon, Hexisol, masks and gloves to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“Producers and sellers [of fake healthcare products] from some parts of the country have already been brought under the law,” he added.

Strict action will be taken against those who sell these products and endanger peoples’ lives. All our units have already been instructed in this regard. The operation will continue, he said.

On April 25, A RAB mobile court conducted a raid in in Fashertek Balur Math area of Dhaka’s Vatara with Executive Magistrate Sarwoer Alam and arrested a man and sentenced to two years in jail for allegedly selling used masks, Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), and gloves.

The arrestee collected the used PPEs and other used items from various hospitals, then washed and re-packaged those for sale, RAB said.

On June 19, Kotowali police had conducted raids at Mitford, Babubazar and surrounding areas and arrested seven persons for their alleged involvement with making fake Savlon and Hexisol liquids. Police also recovered 1,900 litres of fake Savlon and 500 litres of Hexisol during the raid.

Meanwhile, the Dhaka District Administration's mobile courts also conducted raids at various pharmacies in Shahbagh, Aziz Super Market and Topkhana Road areas of the capital.

Dhaka District Administration Executive Magistrate Mahnaz Hossain Fariba said: “We have conducted mobile court operations in various medicine markets in the capital. Many fake items have been seized and destroyed.”

“We are doing our job, but in this case people need to be very alert. They should check what they are buying, she said.