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Chemists see profit in swine flu

delhi Updated: May 06, 2009 01:01 IST
Rhythma Kaul
Rhythma Kaul
Hindustan Times
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Though India has not been affected by swine flu, many chemists are riding on the scare and selling imported capsules of Tamiflu (oseltamivir), the anti-flu drug used to treat influenza H1N1, at four times the price.

Hindustan Times visited five Delhi pharmacies that are selling a 10-tablet strip, which costs about Rs 1,000, for anywhere between Rs 2,000 and Rs 4,000.

Pharmacies at two corporate hospitals — Max Healthcare and Apollo — and chemists in east Delhi, however, told HT that only the central government stocked the drug.

Many south and central Delhi chemists are selling the prescription drug over the counter without giving a receipt. They offer to get it within a day if you pay upfront.

Popular Medicos, in south Delhi’s Defence Colony market, will sell it to customers for Rs 2,800. “We sell an imported brand. It’s from our collection, so we cannot give you a receipt,” said Akhil Mittal, the store manager.

“We don’t stock it but we can get you imported strips of Tamiflu for Rs 4,000. These are imported, the original by Roche, so you won’t get a bill and will have to pay the entire amount upfront. There will be no refund or exchange,” said S.K. Gupta, store manager, Evergreen Chemists and Cosmetic Store, also in Defence Colony market.

Akhil Sharma, manager of Link Drug Stores in South Extension-I, another south Delhi locality, has ordered 50 strips of Tamiflu but does not intend to sell more than two strips per customer. “I’m getting a lot of queries, so I don’t want to sell to one person. Each strip is priced at Rs 3,600,” said Sharma.

Nath Brothers in central Delhi’s Connaught Place, which earlier sold each strip for Rs 2,000, have stopped selling the medicine. “The importers from whom we procure the medicine are planning to increase the price. We will resume selling after the increased amount is fixed,” said a salesman at the store.

Though four pharma companies – Cipla, Roche India, Ranbaxy and hetero Drugs -- manufacture the drug in India, its sales are banned at chemists because of fears that the H1N1 virus that causes swine flu may develop resistance to it. If that happens, a new, stronger medicine will be needed to treat the disease.

“Retail sale of oseltamivir is banned across India. The medicine is stocked at government-run hospitals across the country, to be used for treating only confirmed cases of swine flu. I have asked the drug controller general of India to get in touch with the Delhi government to take action against chemists violating the ban,” said Vineet Chawdhry, joint secretary, ministry of health.